Art Institute of Chicago's New Blockbuster TASS Poster Exhibition, Windows on the War, Only in Chicago.

Art Institute of Chicago's New Blockbuster TASS Poster Exhibition, Windows on the War, Only in Chicago.
The poster depicts the weapons of war verses the weapons of propaganda (the pen and pencil). Nikolai Fedorovich Denisovsky (Russian, 1901–1981), Pavel Petrovich Sokolov-Skalya (Russian, 1889–1961). Our One Thousandth Blow, June 5, 1944. Multicolor brush stencil on newsprint (pieced), laid down on tan Korean lining paper. 1601 x 1231 mm. The Art Institute of Chicago. Gift of the USSR Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. 2010.82.

Controversial Soviet TASS Posters from World War II Show That the Pen Can Be Mightier Than the Sword.

Chicago, Tuesday, August 2, 2011.  A new exhibition, Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941-1945, opened Sunday at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Regenstein Hall. The exhibition showcases 157 original posters whose impetus was fired by Hitler’s surprise attack on the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.

The posters were discovered just a little over ten years ago when they were unearthed from a storage area in the Art Institute where they sat in two rolls and 26 tightly wrapped brown paper parcels undisturbed for 50 years when they were sent to the Museum by a Soviet advocacy agency for safekeeping.

Made using the unconventional technique of stenciling, these impressively large (all between 5 and 12 feet in height) and exceptionally vibrant painted posters resulted from the collaboration of leading Soviet artists and illustrators along with some of the most significant writers of the day.

By war’s end, the TASS agency had generated approximately 1,250 individual designs. The posters were produced, assembly-line style.  Daily editions of between 100 and 1,000 striking and sizable posters were churned out entirely by hand, through the means of painting through cut stencils (as many as 60 to 70 different stencils) and with a labor-intensive technology previously unheard of in poster production.

Windows on the War is an exhibition as much about the history of Soviet-U.S. relationships during the first half of the 20th as it is about art.  Dating back to as early as 1917 artists supporting the Bolshevik government began to produce propaganda which appeared in posters and on the sides of trains, as street decorations for revolutionary holidays and demonstrations and as temporary monuments erected on the squares of Russian towns.

The World War II Soviet posters that are the seeds of the Windows on the War exhibition were created by a collective of artists and writers working under the auspices of the Soviet Union’s news agency, TASS (an acronym for the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union). These posters were used to create a mood of urgency and to define the Nazi enemy as vile and subhuman.

The exhibition traces the progress of World War II on the Eastern Front while at the same time, illuminates a local story: the role that they played as cultural ambassadors to the Art Institute of Chicago during the devastating war–a story that not until now has been told in the United States.

Presented both as unique historical objects and as works of art, the posters demonstrate how the artists and writers of the day used unconvetional technical and aesthetic means to contribute to the fight against the Nazis–marking a major chapter in the history of design and propaganda.

Windows on the War is accompanied by a 400-page catalogue, which is the first major scholarly English-language text on the posters’ production.  lt 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 richly illustrated catalogue includes chapters on the founding of the TASS studio, its stylistic choices, and role in the war; the poetic/literary collaborators in the poster studio; the international dissemination and American reception of the works; and a technical study of the posters’ medium and assemblage. 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.

The exhibition is also supplemented by an extensive online initiative that will showcase hundreds of additional unique works not featured in the exhibition, accessible via an exhibition microsite: http://www.artic.edu/TASS/, Tumblr page: http://tass-posters.tumblr.com, and special Twitter feed: @TASSPosters.

Windows on the War runs through October 23, 2011. It is being held in conjunction with a year-long initiative, The Soviet Arts Experience, spearheaded by the University of Chicago.  The Soviet Arts festival features more than 100 events in 26 venues across Chicago, including 7 art exhibitions, 9 dance performances, over 50 concerts, 2 theater productions plus numerous lectures, classes and symposia through December 2011.

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