There is no question that art was an object of propaganda for both the Soviet and American governments. Each regime used art to represent something about how their economic or political system was superior to the other. However, how far did direct government involvement reach? Was art simply utilized and held up as a symbol by the government, or was it actually falsely created?
It is important to remember that history is written by the winners. If the USSR had won the Cold War, the CIA’s involvement in Abstract Expressionism would most definitely be portrayed in a different light, if it all. It does seem, however, that the USA expedited the rise of the Abstract Expressionist movement to the international stage, which it probably would have done anyway; whereas the USSR directly created and fabricated works of Soviet Realism depicting work scenes and productivity.
Eva Cockroft claims in her article “Abstract Expressionism, Weapon of the cold war” that “links between cultural cold war politics and the success of Abstract Expressionism are by no means coincidental, or unnoticeable. They were consciously forged at the same time by some of the most influential figures controlling museum policies, and advocating enlightened cold war tactics designed to woo European intellectuals.” However, this is not entirely true. Abstract expression was inherently apolitical; its founding fathers agreed more with communist values of redistribution of wealth and economic equality than American capitalism. Even regardless of that fact, the American public for the most part hated non-objective and abstract art. President Harry Truman even declared, “If that's art, then I'm a Hottentot [an African bushman].” Congress would never approve massive allotments of taxpayer money for exhibitions of abstract art. So the CIA acted in secret, and were able to do so because many top CIA officials held spots on museum boards of directors and were frequent collectors of the art themselves. Through the indirect funding of many exhibitions across the Western World, the US was able to proclaim: “Look at the individualism that fosters in America. We are so free that even art that is made by government opponents can be shown in major museums.” This was a true statement.
Russia, on the other hand, did not have reality on their side. The government had to forge art depicting the productivity and fairness of the Marxist system, because neither were entirely true. In the US, communists displayed their art at major museums. In the USSR, capitalists were sent to prison camps, or even execution. Also, the failure of the first two “five-year plans” under Stalin were so bad that massive food shortages occurred across the state. Neither fairness nor productivity really stood to describe the USSR.
A final thing to consider is that the American government furthered a naturally occurring movement with funding for international exhibitions. The Soviet government tried to forge the progression of art history. Art is not something that progresses with direct interference. That may be why today, one sees Abstract Expressionism in the world’s museums, not Soviet realism.