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The Superb Poster Art That Abetted Stalin’s Regime

Unearthed from deep within a storage space at the Art Institute’s prints and drawings department 10 years ago, the posters reveal some remarkable technical innovations.

To the casual student of history, Stalinist Russia represented a creative Dark Ages for the country that gave the world the likes of Marc Chagall and Tolstoy. But as a new exhibit on Soviet propaganda posters reveals, artists, illustrators, and writers managed to thrive, and even innovate, despite the iron fist of Stalin’s regime.

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Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941?1945 brings together 157 posters produced under the auspices of the USSR’s state-controlled news agency, the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS). The posters — rare, hand-made, and huge, with some as tall as a basketball hoop — were unearthed from deep within a storage space at the Art Institute of Chicago‘s prints and drawings department 10 years ago.

The posters were originally designed for window displays in empty storefronts and sent overseas to rally Allied and neutral nations against Nazi Germany. They depict the standard retinue of World War II-era propaganda: Hitler getting gored by Allied troops, Hilter drawn as a skeleton, Hitler dressed like Tigger and getting his paw stuck in a trap. Wait… what? Okay, so maybe “standard” isn’t quite the right word.

In any case, the real innovation here was technical. Per the Art Institute:

[The TASS artists] produced, assembly-line style, daily editions of between 100 and 1,000 striking and sizable posters entirely by hand, through the means of painting through cut stencils and with a labor-intensive technical virtuosity previously unheard of in poster production (some of the most intricate and chromatically brilliant designs demanded 60 to 70 different stencils and color divisions).

Windows on the War opens July 31. For those of you who can’t make it out to Chicago before the exhibit closes October 23, take heart: The web-savvy Art Institute will post an image of a new poster every day on a Tumblr until the end of the show.

[Images courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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