Recreating the CIA's "top secret" abstract painting collection

Artist Johanna Barron shows portions of her 2015 work of the Melzac Collection held by the CIA

In the 1980s, "controversial Republican art collector" Vincent Melzac donated 29 abstract paintings from the Washington Color School to the CIA, which now hang on the Agency's walls, but when asked for details about them, the CIA goes mum, claiming that the paintings are top secret.

Portland, OR artist Johanna Barron filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the agency to learn about the paintings, but was repeatedly foiled by CIA stonewalling.

So she decided to recreate the CIA's art collection in Portland, in a project called Acres of Walls, where she displays her three-quarter-sized copies of the donated paintings, accompanied by printed out text from her communications with the CIA. The details of the paintings are gleaned from fragmentary public sources, and where she couldn't get enough detail, she's rendered the painting with fuzzed-out, pixellated sections.

Acres of Walls is currently hung at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum.

This Kafkaesque saga inspired Barron’s ongoing project Acres of Walls, in which she attempts to recreate paintings in the Melzac Collection in three-quarter scale based on scraps of descriptions she’s collected from tireless research. “I liked that the CIA wasn’t aware there was this re-created space out in Oregon,” Barron tells Hyperallergic in an email. “I also felt an homage to these artists — as it is with any copying or transcribing, you enter the work in a unique way, and I started to love the Washington Color School painters.” Barron’s paintings, which explore what she calls the government’s absurd “knee-jerk lack of transparency,” are now on view in Chasing Justice, an exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

Why Does the CIA Keep Its Art Collection Secret? [Carey Dunne/Hyperallergic]

(via We Make Money Not Art)

(Image: James Rexroad