Monday, February 28, 2011

Soviet poster art by Russian avant garde idealogs gains curator status

Moscow, 1985. 

The bricks and mortar in the Kremlin's wall burying the body and 11-month reign of Soviet premier Konstantin Chernenko (1911 - 1985) remained deeply damp, the grout freshly manicured.

I was flexing my Russian a second time in the Motherland (first was 1976) as I explored the schizoid Soviet state during a power vacuum, touring art museums, meeting and talking with Russians, learning as much as I could in three weeks from Uzbekistan to Leningrad (St. Petersburg).

Chernenko, the last of the hard-line Bolshevik leaders, aged and infirm, had died 13 days before.  His predecessor, Yuri Andropov, dropped dead after 15 months as Soviet leader, following Leonid Brezhnev's demise in 1982.

Russians plodded on as they had for decades of Communist rule by a propaganda-hungry oligarchy Karl Marx called "the dictatorship of the proletariat."

Chernenko was a blink of the eye in Russian history.

But 20 million Russian dead during WW II and the sacrifices of a bleeding and permanently scarred nation bore constant visual reminder along the streets of Moscow as Russians celebrated 40 years of victory over the Nazis.

The streets were ablaze with posters and banners.

Heroic Red Army soldiers, cast in red, black and white--faces carved in fierce resolve--soldiers rushing into battle and onto victory in 1945, like so many posters from 1919 to the USSR's implosion in 1989, propogandizing and propping up the ruling class, the Communist Party, since avant garde artists became party aparachiks.

Other artists who fell from state-approved favour fled or went underground or vanished or ended up in state mental asylums to be rehabilitated or were sent to Siberia, their collective and confiscated works, it's rumoured, still crated and stored in the dank and dark caverns below the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

In any Moscow bookstore you would see the heavy but talented hand of state illustrators manipulating your mind through emotive palettes of worker-heroes.

One genre, however, demonized religion and castigated Christ as an evil cartoon, as the usurper of the people.

Some would argue it's art, others malicious and demented propoganda.

Then, you could buy a packet of 10 different, colour, collector-sized hate-relgion posters for 60 kopeks, less than one US dollar.

The state encouraged your purchase and subsidized it.

Now, however, these posters are the stuff of collectors, galleries, curators and exhibitions.
Two curators in Connecticut believe these posters and cartoons tell the story of how dictatorships need enemies and friends, the black and the white of the propoganda palette of persuasion.

Photograph of Soviet poster by Stefan van Drake.

Closing 20 March, "Views and Re-views: Soviet Political Posters and Cartoons" continues at the William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut.

The Benton's website describes this show's significance: "More than an opportunity to condemn extremism of a bygone era, Views and Re-Views invites viewers to contemplate the works with a mind to past and current political climates in which rigid ideologies are formulated and disseminated."

Featured Soviet-era artists include: Dimitri Moor, Valentina Kulagina, Gustav Klutsis and Viktor Deni, collectively known as the Kukrynitsky.

The exhibition's curators: Jo-Ann Conklin, director of the David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University and Brown professor emeritus Abbott Gleason of the Watson Institute for International Studies.

Rock on and practice peace and love.

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will be in peace." Jimmy Hendrix.

Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM).

ArtTraveler videos may be seen on YouTube.
Competa valley, Andalusia, Spain Photo by Liz Paris.

Catch up with Dutch walkers Rob & Joost on their Via de la Plata blog with narrative (in Dutch) and many photos recording their 1,000-km. pilgramage from Seville to Santiago de Compostela.

Thinking about taking an Andalusian walking holiday or week-long sculpture or mosaics workship in our sunny mountains? see: and

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