Agitation and Propaganda: The Soviet Political Poster 1918–1929

February 6 – April 3, 2016

Agitation and Propaganda presents reproductions of early Soviet political posters issued in 1967 by the seminal, independent literary publishing house Grove Press. Photographed by Caio Garruba at the Lenin State Library in Moscow, their publication in the United States offered Western audiences a rare window into the postrevolutionary visual culture of the Soviet Union.

In 1917, the Tsarist autocracy was overthrown, and the Bolshevik party, led by Vladimir Lenin, seized control of the government. Civil war and famine followed as they sought to consolidate and legitimize their power. Beginning in 1918, the Bolsheviks recruited artists to produce posters as a means of galvanizing public opinion and communicating their message to the largely illiterate peasantry. Uniting the twin strategies of agitation and propaganda, these posters reflect the aspirations of the Bolsheviks to create a mass culture of the proletariat.

In 1923, American journalist Albert Rhys Williams wrote, “The visitor to Russia is struck by the multitude of posters—in factories and barracks, on walls and railway-cars, on telegraph poles—everywhere.” They addressed the most urgent concerns of the day, including the call to arms, relief for those afflicted by famine, the elimination of enemies, and the promotion of literacy, and appealed to the workers of the world to unite.

Designed by artists both well known and obscure, posters featured in this exhibition include iconic works by El Lissitzky, Dmitry Moor, and Alexander Rodchenko. They display a range of influences and styles both old and new, from traditional Russian icons to the painterly experiments of the Peredvizhniki (Itinerants),who sought to create a national and accessible art that reflected the everyday lives of the Russian people. Others were influenced by the radical innovations of the avant-garde movements of Suprematism and Constructivism.

Produced largely before the death of Lenin in 1924, and before the greater censorship and repression that followed under Stalin, these early posters chronicle the efforts of artists to define and contest the most appropriate images and symbols of the new Soviet State.

Agitation and Propaganda: The Soviet Political Poster 1918–1929 is organized by the Frye Art Museum. The exhibition is funded by the Frye Foundation with the generous support of Frye Art Museum members and donors. Seasonal support is provided by Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and ArtsFund.

Dmitry Moor. Help!, 1921. Poster reproduction. Frye Art Museum, Gift of Pieter Zilinsky, 2015.010S.26. Photo: Mark Woods.
Dmitry Moor. Have You Volunteered?, 1920. Poster reproduction. Frye Art Museum, Gift of Pieter Zilinsky, 2015.010S.13. Photo: Mark Woods.
Alexander Rodchenko. Books (Please)! In All Branches of Knowledge, 1924. Poster reproduction. Frye Art Museum, Gift of Pieter Zilinsky, 2015.010S.30. Photo: Mark Woods.
El Lissitzky. Hit the Whites with the Red Wedge!, 1920. Poster reproduction. Frye Art Museum, Gift of Pieter Zilinsky, 2015.010S.15. Photo: Mark Woods.
Designer unknown. 1917—October—1920, 1920. Poster reproduction. Frye Art Museum, Gift of Pieter Zilinsky, 2015.010S.23. Photo: Mark Woods.