Hold the Mao

Last year, the German Historical Museum in Berlin mounted an exhibition of political iconography, including propaganda from Fascist Italy, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Nazi Germany. Plans to bring the show to the U.S. were halted in part because of the controversy over exhibiting paintings and posters of Adolf Hitler. Hitler certainly does arouse raw emotions. But last week, an exhibition featuring Mao in all his guises and the art of the Chinese Cultural Revolution opened at the Asia Society in New York and received a respectful review in the New York Times by Holland Cotter. Following the Olympic Games in Beijing and two American political conventions, the show’s timing illustrated that, for very different reasons, the art of propaganda in general is on people’s minds.
    Also, I have a book out on totalitarian propaganda campaigns, Iron Fists: Branding the Twentieth Century Totalitarian State, which includes a section on the Chinese efforts to deify Mao (more can be seen here) during the Cultural Revolution. It’s extremely important for designers to know how propaganda they create for so many products, ideas, and ideologies plays on the public’s mind. The exhibition “Art and China’s Revolution” will add to that understanding.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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