The Tate Modern in London has an entire room devoted to the British designer, art director, and documentarian David King’s Soviet poster collection, which includes “evocative and lively celebrations of the revolution to hideous endorsements of Stalinist policy,” wrote a reviewer. His solidly researched collection (read more here and here in Eye), and the many books that have sprung from or were influenced by it, are invaluable documents for scholars and the rest of us on the power of imagery to convey ideas and manipulate minds—then and now.
In addition to King’s own social justice work, which borrows from yet transforms the graphic language of Russian Constructivism, his most recent documentary accomplishment is a striking compilation of familiar and rare designs in Russian Revolutionary Posters: From Civil War to Socialist Realism, From Bolshevism to the End of Stalinism (Tate). Featured among the 165 posters are the famous artists Alexander Rodchenko, El Lissitsky, Gustav Klutsis, Dimitri Moor, Viktor Demi, and Nina Vatolina, some with unknown works. It can be argued that the Socialist Realism posters imposed by Stalin were far from “revolutionary,” but the chronology of images indicates they are, at least, “evolutionary”—or, for some, “devolutionary.” Visually, it is quite interesting to see the contrast of pre-Stalin art next to Stalin’s iron-fisted control of style and substance before, during, and after World War II.
For more Steven Heller, check out Citizen Designer: Perspectives on Design Responsibility, one of the many Heller titles available at MyDesignShop.com.