Vladimir Vasilievich Lebedev, Russian, 1891-1967. Captured!, February 17, 1944. Multicolor brush stencil on newsprint (pieced), laid down on tan Korean lining paper. 1705 x 862 mm. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of the USSR Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. RX21447/0424.
Pavel Petrovich Sokolov-Skalya, Russian, 1899-1961. German Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, March 22, 1944. Multicolor brush stencil on newsprint (pieced), laid down on tan Korean lining paper. 1872 x 845 mm. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of the USSR Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. RX21447/0431.
Pavel Petrovich Sokolov-Skalya (Russian, 1889-1961), Nikolai Ernestovich Radlov (Russian, 1889-1942). Fascist Reports, August 17, 1942. Multicolor brush stencil on newsprint (pieced), laid down on tan Korean lining paper. 1772 x 870 mm. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of the USSR Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. RX21447/0409.
Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Avenue
Windows on the War. Soviet TASS Posters
at Home and Abroad, 1941-1945
July 31-October 28, 2011
More than ten years ago, 26 brown paper parcels were unearthed from deep in a storage area for the Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of Prints and Drawings. These parcels contained 50-year-old monumental posters created by a collective of artists and writers working under the auspices of the Soviet Union’s news agency, TASS (Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union). These posters became the seeds of the landmark exhibition Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941-1945. While the focus of the exhibition is on these rarely seen posters, viewers will also find rich historical and cultural context revealed in photographs and documentary material illuminating the visual culture of US–USSR relations before and during the war. Drawn from the Art Institute’s collection as well as the Ne boltai! Collection of 20th-century propaganda, this exhibition reveals Soviet artists previously unrecognized in the United States, demonstrating that, despite the brutal regime of Joseph Stalin, creativity flourished among diverse artists and writers as they sought purpose working in and for a totalitarian state. The exhibition marks the first time the hand-made posters, designed for window displays in empty storefronts, have been displayed in the United States since World War II.
Made with the unconventional stenciling technique, these large (between 5 and 10 feet in height) and vibrant painted posters resulted from the collaboration of Soviet artists and illustrators and some of the most significant writers of the day. By war’s end, the TASS agency had generated approximately 1,250 individual designs — one for nearly every day of the conflict. The ambition and devotion of the TASS artists are palpable: they produced, assembly-line style, daily editions of between 100 and 1,000 striking and sizable posters by hand, by means of painting through cut stencils and with labor-intensive technical virtuosity punheard of in poster production (some of the most intricate and chromatically brilliant designs demanded 60 to 70 different stencils and color divisions).
The core of the exhibition is comprised of the Art Institute’s 157 TASS posters, which were mailed to the museum by VOKS (USSR Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries) as part of its campaign of international cultural diplomacy during the war. The exhibition examines not only TASS studio production in Moscow but also the critical role played by the posters as international cultural “ambassadors” to the Allied nations, as these unique works were published in the American press as well as exhibited at the time on American soil. The display of the posters is set in the context of the historical relationship between the United States and the USSR; the American poster design debates of the 1940s and the mobilization of visual images by both isolationist and interventionist groups; and the support by American advocacy organizations and artist-allies.
Windows on the War is accompanied by a 400-page catalogue, which is the first major scholarly English-language text on the posters’ production and features essays by Peter Zegers, Douglas Druick, Jill Bugajski, Cher Schneider, Konstantin Akinsha, Adam Jolles, and Robert Bird, with contributions by Lauren Makholm and Molly Zimmerman-Feeley. The catalogue includes chapters on the founding of TASS studio, its stylistic choices, and role in the war; the poetic/literary collaborators in the studio; the international dissemination and American reception of the works; and a technical study of the posters’ medium and assemblage. The TASS posters in the exhibition each receive in-depth treatment, reading the unique visual iconography and style of the works against their specific historical context. The catalogue, published by the Art Institute of Chicago and distributed by Yale University Press, is available for $65 at the Art Institute’s Museum Shop.
Belligerent Encounters Visitors to Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941–1945 should not miss a concurrent and complementary exhibition: Belligerent Encounters: Graphic Chronicles of War and Revolution, 1500-1945. This exhibition in the Jean and Steven Goldman Prints and Drawings Galleries in the Richard and Mary L. Gray Wing (G124-127) highlights European and American prints, posters, and drawings spanning almost 500 years of war and revolution. Conceived as a prelude to Windows on the War, the exhibition is organized both thematically and chronologically.
Wars and revolutions have been recorded in words and images since time immemorial, commemorated in architecture, sculpture, mosaics, frescoes, and tapestries. In Europe, the advent of printing and printmaking in the 15th century meant that the chronicling of historical and contemporary conflicts was possible on a scale as never before. Woodcuts, engravings, etchings, and lithographs recording aspects of wars and revolutions can be seen as ancestors to the kinds of digital technologies that made this year’s •Arab Spring• a global event.
Some images included in Belligerent Encounters — by the likes of Albrecht Dürer, Jacques Callot, and Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes — are quite famous; others — by Édouard Manet and Otto Dix — may be familiar to some; but there are others still — from such artists as Frank Brangwyn, Albin Egger-Lienz, Jan Poortenaar, and Heinrich Hoerle — that will be unknown to many people. While some of the works on display were intended to stand on their own, a number of prints come from thematic portfolios, the contents of which were intended to be seen together. These include Max Beckmann’s Hell, Heinrich Hoerle’s Cripple Portfolio, and Otto Dix’s War. Select sections, including a thematic gallery devoted to Imperial Branding: The Origin of a Pejorative — The Kaiser and the Hun, have been guest-curated by Paul Jaskot, professor of modern art and architectural history at DePaul University.
B. Shirokrad. Russian, 20th century. A Menacing Ghost, February 4, 1944. Multicolor brush stencil on newsprint (pieced), laid down on tan Korean lining paper. 1670 x 869 mm. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of the USSR Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. RX21447/0419.
Pavel Petrovich Sokolov-Skalya, Russian, 1899-1961. Wolf the Moralist, July 19, 1943. Multicolor brush stencil on newsprint (pieces), laid down on tan Korean lining paper. 2375 x 830 mm. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of the USSR Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. RX21447/0415.