Saturday, August 6, 2011

Winning the war...with art


"Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief
All kill their inspirations, then sing about their grief"
                                                                    --U2

After going through their archives, The Art Institute of Chicago realized that they were in possession of a considerable amount of World War II-era Soviet propaganda art.  The posters were created as the result of the combined efforts of Moscow artists and the TASS news agency in order to assure Soviet citizens that the oncoming tidal wave of German troops could be turned back.  The Art Institute is now showing these and newly acquired propaganda prints in an exhibition entitled, "Windows On the War."

I have long had a fascination with the propaganda art of that era. The cartoonish elements, the drama, the pairing of intense and muted colors, the themes that now appear so campy and fun today.  The art has a style all its own.  As a recent New York Times article on the exhibition wrote: "a single image required dozens of stencils, outlining curly tresses on murdered babies and gleams on bayonets. 'Works representing dire, despicable or terrifying subjects were lovingly crafted,' Ms. Bugajski and Cher Schneider, a paper conservator, write in a catalog essay."  Indeed, this style of art is so distinctive that you know it immediately when you see it.  






I don't know if those prints are part of the exhibition or not but I like them anyway.
There are so many different renditions.  Soviet airplanes bombing German cities in flames, Nazi officers fleeing like cowards, and my favorite, a German medic shoots a fallen comrade in the head as the words "First Aid" are emblazoned above them.  Another fine example of this kind of dark humor is a poster of emaciated Nazis in a rowboat under the title, "Resort Season Is Over."  As you can see, the writing involved in the poster creation involved every bit as much melodramatic moxie as the brushstrokes.  Other headline proclamations include, "Sweep Away the Scum!" and "The Time For Vengeance Is Approaching."  Those could easily be issue titles for comic books in the Bronze Age.  
Speaking of Pop Art and Culture, propaganda art is enjoying a sort of renaissance these days as hipsters embrace kitsch.  While I'm not at all a fan of hipster trends, I can at least take heart in that it's bringing this style of art back.  Take a look:


Stupid movie.  Great art.


And it's not only hipsters.  The famous "Hope" portrait of Obama is nothing less than a modern day propaganda piece that has been embraced by the masses.  Nothing against Obama, I'm just calling it what it is.
Here's to hoping I can get to that Art Institute exhibit before it closes in October.


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