Menschel Hall, Lower Level, Harvard Art Museums
32 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA
(please enter the museums via the entrance on Broadway)
Most of us are sure that Russian revolutionary posters are propaganda, even those made by renowned artists of the Russian avant-garde in their attempt to bring “art into life.” At this retrospective moment of the 100th anniversary of the Revolution, in the midst of renewed struggles between (alt) right and left, this talk proposes that we need to question this certainty about the nature of the propaganda image by distinguishing between the aspirations that animate its production, and the operations of power that instrumentalize it.
Bringing together well-known avant-garde posters with unknown realist ones—like those by artist Maria Bri-Bein with her vividly drawn woman workers and aviators—I argue that the poster, as a particular kind of image, came to constitute its own visual and discursive field in Soviet art of the early 1930s, with its own institutional and critical apparatus. Previously unexamined publications of censors’ reports, and accounts of workers’ focus groups, reveal an enclosed world of constant self-assessment that challenges not only the familiar oppositions between avant-garde and Socialist Realism, art and propaganda, but also the masculine cast of revolutionary imagery—many poster artists were women, and their works often imagine a community of self-possessed women under socialism who transcend the burden of the everyday. Reassessing this particular field of the Soviet image can reclaim what is most aspirational about revolutionary art, and restore the agency of the actors within it, as they mobilize a ubiquitous, mass-produced art form to conjure a bit of revolution every day.
Christina Kiaer is co-curator, with Robert Bird and Zach Cahill, of the exhibition Revolution Every Day at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, opening this fall. She teaches modern art at Northwestern University, and is the author of Imagine No Possessions: The Socialist Objects of Russian Constructivism (MIT Press) and the forthcoming Collective Body: The Lyrical Prospects of Socialist Realism (University of Chicago Press), as well as the volume Everyday Life in Early Soviet Russia: Taking the Revolution Inside (Indiana University Press), co-edited with Eric Naiman. She was a consulting curator, and contributed to the catalog, for the exhibition Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsiia! Soviet Art Put to the Test at the Art Institute of Chicago, also opening this fall.
Free admission, but passes are required. Passes will be given out at the door, beginning at 5pm, at the Broadway entrance.
Co-sponsored by Department of History of Art and Architecture, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, and Harvard Art Museums.
Complimentary parking available in the Broadway Garage, 7 Felton Street, Cambridge