The Soviet propaganda graphics that shaped the Russian Revolution

The Soviet propaganda graphics that shaped the Russian Revolution

Propaganda today may come in a much more subtle and insidious form, but once not too long ago, nationalistic messages were sent out to the public loud and clear. The eye-catching graphic design of early 20th-century Soviet propaganda is an especially memorable example, and currently in the spotlight at The Wolfsonian – Florida International University, where two overlapping shows are in progress.

‘Red and Black: Revolution in Soviet Propaganda Graphics’ (5 April – 5 August) is an installation of 20 rare books, periodicals and book and portfolio plates, while ‘Construction Revolution: Soviet Propaganda Posters Between the World Wars’ (13 April – 12 August), organised by Maine’s Bowdoin College Museum of Art, shows how graphic designers interpreted the revolution’s utopian ideals for the communist dictatorship.

Together, both shows highlight the ties between culture and revolutionary ideology in the years right after the 1917 Russian Revolution – all the while showcasing the evolution and creation of a distinct graphic style.

Gather the Harvest, 1931, by Dmitrii Moor. Photography: Lynton Gardiner. The Wolfsonian – Florida International University, Miami Beach, Florida, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr Collection

With over 50 Soviet-era posters from the private collection of Svetlana and Eric Silverman, and rarely seen works possessed by The Wolfsonian, the ‘Construction Revolution’ exhibition includes examples by several influential members of the Soviet avant-garde, such as Vladimir Mayakovsky, Gustav Klutsis and Aleksandr Rodchenko.

The unique visual language of the posters not only encapsulates this volatile period in Russian history, but also shows how the communist ethos was translated into an accessible, fervent iteration of public art. Guided strictly by the state, yet still displaying a degree of artistic experimentation, the historic significance of these posters is especially poignant when viewed against the backdrop of politics today.

‘These works speak to the paradox of the Soviet Union during its early decades, when utopianism went hand-in-hand with manipulation,’ says Jon Mogul, Wolfsonian associate director of curatorial and education. ‘There is an undeniable sense of excitement, optimism, and experimentation in these images, though they also convey the sanitised and one-sided version of reality that contributed to the consolidation of a brutally repressive dictatorship.’

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