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The CIA Has Quietly Been Buying Abstract Art For "Training Purposes" and We're All Suspicious

James Rexroad

Having nice decor around your workplace can actually be a pretty important factor to how well you do your job. Plenty of studies have been done to reflect the value of an attractive workplace, in that it tends to create a better work ethic and more comfortable feeling in its employees.

HyperAllergic

It probably comes as no surprise then the list of thousands of organizations that have commissioned their own artwork for their offices includes one of the most important ones found within the United States government; the CIA.

James Rexroad

It all began back in 1968, during the height of the Cold War (and arguably the busiest period the CIA has ever worked through). Vincent Melzac, an art collector (as well as a catfish farm owner, salon chain magnate, and Arabian race horse breeder) was contacted to loan a series of 11 paintings to the CIA, all of which were by artists associated with the Washington Color School, a post-war movement based in DC, known for their stripes, polka dots, and color fields on canvas.

HyperAllergic

The paintings would stay on loan for nearly 20 years until Melzac sold them to the CIA himself, and while his estate has continued to lend and take back plenty of other paintings from the organization, the original 11 still hang in the CIA's headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

A replica set of the original collectionJames Rexroad

Melzac's collection is now only one of several housed within the CIA, which begs the question; what is it the CIA likes so much about abstract art?!

Turns out, the answer's actually a little more complicated that you might have thought...

An an interview with HyperAllergic.com, representatives of the CIA elaborated on the collection, saying that

“[The paintings] are used for training purposes,” Carolyn Reams, former director of the CIA Museum, said. “We’ll have some of our guys and gals come down here and do a critical analysis of the paintings. Say you’ve got to analyze this big, heavy duty ISIL problem over here — maybe if you come look at the painting, it’ll help you think about how to solve the ISIL problem creatively.”

HyperAllergic

The article elaborates that this isn't actually a new phenomenon to the more clandestine parts of the U.S. government; "After 9/11, FBI agents consulted drawings by the late artist Mark Lombardi that illustrated the relationships between the Bush and Bin Laden families."

HyperAllergic

Apparently certain members of the organization even understand how weird this all must seem, as a former Chairman of the Fine Arts Commission wrote in a letter in 1979;

"“My kid could do that” comments are common among employees, Reams said. “Although some employees might quarrel with the artistic worth of … paintings of dots, stripes, and the like, most would agree that these large, bright, colorful paintings add a zestful touch to the building that would be difficult to achieve in any other way,”"

HyperAllergic

They certainly do leave quite an impression, that's for sure...

HyperAllergic

What do you think about the CIA's abstract art collection?