Fall-Out Shelters for the Human Spirit

American Art and the Cold War

By Michael L. Krenn

312 pp., 6 x 9, 11 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4766-1
    Published: March 2018
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-7641-1
    Published: March 2006

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

During the Cold War, culture became another weapon in America's battle against communism. Part of that effort in cultural diplomacy included a program to arrange the exhibition of hundreds of American paintings overseas. Michael L. Krenn studies the successes, failures, contradictions, and controversies that arose when the U.S. government and the American art world sought to work together to make an international art program a reality between the 1940s and the 1970s.

The Department of State, then the United States Information Agency, and eventually the Smithsonian Institution directed this effort, relying heavily on the assistance of major American art organizations, museums, curators, and artists. What the government hoped to accomplish and what the art community had in mind, however, were often at odds. Intense domestic controversies resulted, particularly when the effort involved modern or abstract expressionist art. Ultimately, the exhibition of American art overseas was one of the most controversial Cold War initiatives undertaken by the United States. Krenn's investigation deepens our understanding of the cultural dimensions of America's postwar diplomacy and explores how unexpected elements of the Cold War led to a redefinition of what is, and is not, "American."

About the Author

Michael L. Krenn is professor and chair of the Department of History at Appalachian State University. He is author or editor of ten previous books, including Black Diplomacy: African Americans and the State Department, 1945-1969.
For more information about Michael L. Krenn, visit the Author Page.


"An illuminating and detailed treatment of some key episodes of the U.S. international art programs saga between 1945 and 1970."--Foreign Service Journal

"Interrogates the relationship between the state and the art world. . . . A well-researched, well-written and insightful examination which throws light on a particular aspect of governmental approaches to cultural diplomacy."--History

"Krenn's research far surpasses anything thus far done on this topic, and his analytical framework provides compelling insights into the cultural contradictions of the Cold War. This, in combination with a fluid and easily readable style, mark this book as a major contribution to the growing literature on the cultural dimensions of the Cold War."--American Historical Review

"With a narrative linking 'high' culture and politics in the art world, inside government, and between the two spheres, this book will encourage discussion, debate, and further research and analysis. It performs a valuable service for the emerging field of study on the State-private network."--Scott Lucas, University of Birmingham

"Krenn reveals the extent to which art became a battleground between advocates of 'art for art's sake' and those who sought control of art exhibitions for propagandistic purposes. This engaging and comprehensive study of international art and the Cold War will make a significant contribution to both diplomatic and cultural history."--Walter L. Hixson, author of Parting the Curtain: Propaganda, Culture, and the Cold War