Pamela M. LeeMay 16, 2023
Think Tank Aesthetics
Midcentury Modernism, the Cold War, and the Neoliberal Present
MIT Press 2020
In her groundbreaking and timely book Think Tank Aesthetics: Midcentury Modernism, the Cold War, and the Neoliberal Present (MIT Press, 2020), distinguished art historian Pamela M. Lee poses fundamental questions about how the rise of the “think tank” in the mid-20th century has challenged, and indeed must challenge, our understandings of aesthetics, political economy, scholarly knowledge production, and war. A conceptually rich and prolifically sourced work, Think Tank Aesthetics shows how the approaches and methods of think tanks—including systems theory, operations research, and cybernetics—paved the way for a peculiar genre of midcentury modernism and set the terms for contemporary neoliberalism. Describing the distinctive aesthetics that emerged from such institutions as the RAND Corporation, and transporting the reader from Santa Monica, California, to Vienna, to Santiago de Chile, Pamela Lee maps the multiple and overlapping networks that connected nuclear strategists, mathematicians, economists, anthropologists, artists, designers, and art historians. Hearing the echoes of think tank aesthetics in today’s pursuit of the interdisciplinary and in academia’s science-infused justification of the humanities, Lee reflects on what territory has been ceded in a laboratory approach to the arts.
Piotr H. Kosicki is Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is the author of Catholics on the Barricades (Yale, 2018) and editor, among others, of Political Exile in the Global Twentieth Century (with Wolfram Kaiser).