The CIA has an extensive collection of art hanging in its secretive halls. However, as one can imagine, the CIA does not happily volunteer information about its art, and even when a person files a Request of Information Act, the organization doesn’t exactly fully comply. Twenty-nine works of art from the Washington Color School decorate the CIA headquarters’ walls, but chances are, we’ll never see them.
Joby Barron, an Oregon-based artist, has spent the last seven years trying to figure out what’s in the CIA’s collection and trying to get them to provide images of the photographs and paintings they hold. So far, she has not received a single image.
“My interest in the project began in 2008,” Barron says. “I came across a Taryn Simon photograph from her series ‘American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar.’ The photo was of two abstract paintings in the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA. I was instantly intrigued—why did the CIA have these pieces? I wondered what other art they might have and if it was available to the public.”
What Barron does know is that in 1986, Vincent Melzac, a racehorse breeder and art collector, held secret talks with the CIA about giving his collection to them. But her attempts at getting information about the art, which include denied Freedom of Information requests from an agency that is technically paid for by the public, have yielded very little.
Barron started her project Acres of Walls in response to the lack of information she received. Barron attempts to recreate paintings she believes to be in the Melzac Collection, in a three-quarter scale based on descriptions she’s read of the works.
“I liked that the CIA wasn’t aware there was this re-created space out in Oregon,” Barron said. “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.”
But it is strange, nevertheless, that the CIA is so tight-lipped about a seemingly innocuous collection. What’s so interesting about it that it’s worth keeping silent? It’s all very intriguing, but we’re not likely to get any answers soon—or ever.