The Soviet Union, America’s ally against the Nazis in World War II, suffered around 28 million dead soldiers and civilians. Without this sacrifice the United States and western allies not have won the war. One of the battles fought was through propaganda. During World War II, the Soviet Union’s news agency, TASS, enlisted artists and writers to bolster support for the nation’s war effort. Working from Moscow, this studio produced hundreds of storefront window posters, one for nearly every day of the war. The Art Institute of Chicago is displaying some of the evidence of this paper war.
Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941–1945 (July 31–October 23, 2011 / Regenstein Hall) is a vast collection of Russian official posters – many never seen before. The website says:
In 1997, 26 tightly wrapped brown paper parcels were discovered deep in a storage area for the Department of Prints and Drawings. Their presence was a mystery, their contents a puzzle. As conservators and curators carefully worked to open the envelopes, they were surprised and intrigued to find that they contained 50-year-old monumental posters created by TASS, the Soviet Union’s news agency. The idea for a major exhibition began to take shape.
Impressively large—between five and ten feet tall—and striking in the vibrancy and texture of the stencil medium—some demanded 60 to 70 different stencils and color divisions—these posters were originally sent abroad, including to the Art Institute, to serve as international cultural “ambassadors” and to rally allied and neutral nations to the endeavors of the Soviet Union, a partner of the United States and Great Britain in the fight against Nazi Germany. In Windows on the War, the posters will be presented both as unique historical objects and as works of art that demonstrate how the preeminent artists of the day used unconventional technical and aesthetic means to contribute to the fight against the Nazis, marking a major chapter in the history of design and propaganda.
These are not the avant garde Soviet graphics that designers are so fond of copying, celebrating and collecting, but rather the dirty socialist realism and acerbic cartoons used to vilify and demonize the heinous enemy. More posters can be seen here and here. Those of you in Chicago this Summer and Fall should not miss the opportunity. (Thanks to J.D. Biersdorfer for the scouting report.)