Episode 312 (6 years!): TASS POSTERS

August 23, 2011 · Print This Article

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This Week: Has it really been 6 years? Really?

Wow. Duncan and Richard have a rambling bout of personal abuse as the intro and then get on to the good stuff.

Richard talks to Peter Zegers and Jill Bugajski about their work on the stellar new show at the Art Institute of Chicago Windows on the War, Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941-1945, and on the accompanying catalog.

Overview: During World War II, the Soviet Union’s news agency, TASS, enlisted hundreds of artists and writers to bolster support for the nation’s war effort. Working from the TASS studio in Moscow, these artists and writers produced hundreds of storefront window posters, one for nearly every day of the war. Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941-1945 is a monumental exhibition centered on these posters, which have not been seen in the United States since the Second World War.

Impressively large, between five and ten feet tall and striking in the vibrancy and texture of the stencil medium, these posters were 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. While the exhibition’s focus is primarily on the posters, viewers will also find their rich historical and cultural context revealed through photographs and documentary material illuminating the visual culture of US-USSR relations before and during the war.

Windows on the War is not only a fascinating glimpse into one of the most significant government-sponsored cultural efforts of the 20th century but also a major scholarly undertaking that brings these posters into the public eye for the first time in six decades. Catalogue: The exhibition is accompanied by a 400-page catalogue featuring essays by Peter Zegers, Douglas Druick, Jill Bugajski, Konstantin Akinsha, Adam Jolles, and Robert Bird as well as by an extensive online initiative that will bring hundreds of these unique works to the public for the first time since the war.




By the People, For the People: Posters from the WPA, 1936-1943

March 29, 2010 · Print This Article

I love sifting through online image archives, especially those of a historical nature. I’ve been going through the Library of Congress’ collection of posters from the Works Progress Administration and thought I’d share a few of the ones that caught my eye for one reason or another. The collection consists of 908  posters produced during the period 1936 to 1943 as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Of the 2,000 WPA posters known to exist, the Library of Congress’s collection is the largest. They include silkscreens, lithographs, and woodcut posters designed to promote health and safety programs, cultural programs and art exhibitions, travel and tourism, educational programs, and community activities.  Click on the image to be taken to its LOC link.

Chicago will control syphilis : You may have your blood test free and confidentially at one of the following stations : Chicago Board of Health, Herman N. Bundesen, Pres. Federal Art Project, WPA (1938).

Girls - are you interested in a job? : Find out what an occupation has to offer you in pay, employment, security, and promotion : Free classes in occupations. Poster for Illinois branch of the National Youth Administration, 1937.

Poster for Illinois State Employment Service promoting jobs for women as domestics.

Poster for the Brookfield Zoo, showing hippopotamuses superimposed over outline of Africa. 1938.

Don't Mix 'Em. 1937. Robert Lachenmann, artist.

Art week, Nov. 25 - Dec. 1, 1940 : Buy American art.New York : New York City W.P.A. Art Project, 1940.

National Letter Writing Week: Oct. 1-7. Chicago : Illinois WPA Art Project, 1940.

International exhibition of water colors : The Art Institute of Chicago - March 23 - May 14 1939.

NYC WPA War Services, 1941-1943. Herbert Bayer, artist.




Shepard Fairey Backlash?

March 27, 2009 · Print This Article

barack-is-hopeAre we in the midst of a Shepard Fairey backlash? Not exactly, but there is some sort of reassessment going on. The L.A.-based political poster artist designed an iconographic image that reverberated nationally, along with other forms of viral street art that have been piquing the interest of city dwellers for years–but the question that’s being debated at the moment is whether Fairey’s output makes for good art, or even good design. This comes in the wake of Fairey’s 20 year survey exhibition at the ICA Boston, along with news that he has won the Brit Insurance Design of the Year award (chosen by a panel that included MOMA architecture and design curator Paola Antonelli).

Reviews of “Shepard Fairey: Supply and Demand,” at the ICA have been middling to negative. In his review of the show this week, for example, the L.A. Times‘ Christopher Knight delivered a clear-eyed and even-handed assessment of Fairey’s ouevre:

“The 39-year-old designer … possesses a  limited pictorial vocabulary, while the grandest curatorial claims made for the nearly 250 examples in the galleries are unsupportable. But the 20-year success of “Obey Giant” can’t be denied, nor can the efficacy of its strategies in establishing “Obama Hope” in the public consciousness. If neither adds up to major art or effective counterculture politics, both are plainly worth considering.” (Read the full article here).

In a post last Tuesday on the blog New Curator, A.D. Jacobson was more critical of the institutional cynicism motivating Fairey’s survey than he was of Fairey himself:

“this entire show seemed like a set up to me, not even getting into the fact that the BPD arrested the guy on the way to the show. (Yeah, what better way to boost the rebellious cred than getting arrested. Brilliant!!) The images were of the highest production value, but even he will tell you, this ‘aint art.  Not when you’re doing avatar stencils for Joey Ramone and saying things like ‘I’m not a musician, but I’m still gonna rock it hard as nails.’”

It’s not only Shepard Fairey-as-artist who’s being dissed, it’s Shepard Fairey the designer. In an article for the London Times ot Poster of the Year. Or Ad Campaign of the Year. And the prize’s self-defined role is to reward the most “innovative and forward thinking” design. This poster is neither innovative or forward thinking, certainly not compared with last-year’s winner, the bargain-basement laptop in reach of the world’s poor, designed by Yves Béhar” (read the full article here).

What I find most interesting is how all the Fairey take-downs seem to mirror Obama’s own “coming down to earth” transition in national press coverage of late, and I’m not just talking about Fox News. Even so-called liberal media outlets like MSNBC have their pundits training a colder, harder eye on the President, as his budget proposals, his stated commitment to health care and his nods to arts funding come under fire, often from both sides of the political spectrum. It seems that buoyant moment when a single iconic image and the word Hope could move a nation is over. In the worlds of art and politics alike, now it’s time for deeper scrutiny, (hopefully) more intelligent debate, reassessment and repositioning.

Cue Soul II Soul: “back to life… back to reality.”