Earlier this year, Rio de Janeiro’s Modern Art Museum (MAM) shocked the art world when it decided to auction its most celebrated work, No. 16 (1950), by Jackson Pollock — the only work of the artist on public view in Brazil—to fund its operations. The painting was a gift from American magnate Nelson Rockefeller, as part of a soft power strategy.
As a businessman, Mr. Rockefeller had dealings in several areas, such as steel, agriculture, and construction. As a member of the U.S. federal administration, he saw Brazil as an important ally in Latin America. During the Cold War, Mr. Rockefeller believed in the power of cultural influence and, as chairman of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, he encouraged the creation of similar museums across Latin America, having donated important artworks to these institutions. In 1952, he donated a canvas by Robert Motherwell and Pollock ’s No. 16 to MAM.