Art

What Does the CIA Museum Collect?

“The Airman’s Bond” by Keith Woodcock, 2008.

It turns out that the CIA has its very own object and art museum for your online viewing pleasure. Although the collection is housed in CIA headquarters, making it closed to the public, work does appear to travel to other museums and can be viewed anytime online.

The brief history of the collection begins in 1972 when the executive director of the CIA William E. Colby first asked for a collection to commemorate the work of the CIA. Colby’s request was fully realized when the CIA headquarters added another building in the 1980s and created a curatorial position to grow the collection and document it.

Although as a child I was obsessed with some of the more James Bond–like CIA gadgets, the collection appears more politically motivated, moving outside of non-biased historical documentation. The museum itself says its role is to “Inform, Instruct, Inspire” [capitalization theirs]. But just what exactly are they instructing and inspiring us to do or think?

An Afghani Saddle used by CIA members.

Looking over the 148 items on display, I had trouble finding one object or artwork that was overtly disturbing or even morally ambiguous. When considering the content of the collection, this lack of depth or representation of real violence is itself disturbing. The paintings of war scenes hold a serene quality, the objects chosen to represent horrific battles remain absent of their violent past. This collection is much more akin to propaganda than anything of real historical or artistic relevance. Of course, with YouTube working with Guggenheim, the New Museum controversy, and more, we must always consider that those individuals, corporations, foundations, or governments that fund museums and exhibitions often have something to gain, even if it is not direct.

The CIA Museum can be viewed by the public online. 

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