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Alessandro Balteo-Yazbeck

R.S.V.P, 1939 (detail). From the series Cultural Diplomacy: An Art We Neglect, 2007-2009

In collaboration with Media Farzin

Alessandro Balteo Yazbeck and Media Farzin’s exhibition at Christopher Grimes Gallery, Cultural Diplomacy: An Art We Neglect, casts Alexander Calder and his docile abstractions as the unlikely protagonists in a tale of international intrigue, a tangled narrative tracing the twinned histories of the US interest in Venezuelan and Iranian oil following World War II.

The story takes us from a Caracas hotel owned by Nelson Rockefeller to MoMA in the 1940s, from atomic test sites in the Bikini Atoll to Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art and housing developments by architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva. It threads through maps, photographs, Calder replicas and Calder-esque installations, a haze of scholarly quotations, and the pages of New York Magazine (which ran an article titled ‘Cultural Diplomacy: An Art We Neglect’ in January 1954).

The catch, of course, is that none of this is fictional: Calder played a significant role in the large-scale propaganda efforts undertaken by the US as it sought to cultivate new diplomatic relations and gain oil reserves during and after the war.

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