Nailya Alexander Gallery is pleased to present TASS Windows: World War II and the Art of Agitation, an exhibition of rarely exhibited World War II Soviet propaganda posters by the TASS Windows Studio (1941-1945). The exhibition is on view from February 6th to March 2nd. Stenciled by hand and one-of-a-kind, these posters are vital to the history of Soviet graphic design and are as much works of art as historical objects. While widely distributed during the war in the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States, few TASS posters survive to current day.
The TASS Windows studio formed as an immediate reaction to Hitler’s forces invading the Soviet Union during World War II. Sponsored by the Russian Telegraph Agency (TASS), a team of artists, poets and illustrators – among them Mikhail Cheremnukh, Kukriniksy, and Pavel Sokolov-Skalia – created thousands of propaganda posters aimed at boosting the war morale on the home front. A profoundly ambitious project, the artists draped their posters in the windows of retail stores, private homes, train stations, even projecting them onto the walls of factories or hospitals.
These exceptional artists worked in an assembly line style, stenciling each of their posters by hand. Stenciling, then more commonly known by its French name, pochoir, was the preferred medium for fine-art posters in Europe by the turn of the 20th century. The TASS studio renewed the pochoir tradition, designing posters that were both works of fine-art, and agitational propaganda for the Soviet masses. By the height of the war, the artists stenciled with as many as 60 colors, skillfully emulating the oil painter’s treatment of color and space.
For art historian Christina Lodder, “the subjects [of the TASS posters] are harrowing and provide a visual history of one of the most terrible wars in human history. Their impact is intensified by the posters’ technical prowess, which stretches the possibility of the stencil to the limit.”
Technical skill and biting humor coalesce in TASS #1085 “New German Division — Two Inches from the Potty.” Designed in a lively graphic style, the poster mercilessly berates the new generation of German forces who march with chamber pots in their hands and pacifiers in their mouths. Cheremnykh used up to a dozen colors, and created individual stencils to produce the white glare on the chamberpots, and the delicate outlines around the young soldiers’ uniforms.
Also on exhibition are two ROSTA studio posters designed by Vladimir Mayakovsky and Anton Lavinsky. A decisive influence on the TASS studio, the ROSTA Windows studio (1919-1921) hand-stenciled posters in support of the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War. Distinguished by their bright colors and decorative quality, these posters expressed disgust for the gluttonous Capitalist, celebrated the magnanimous industrial worker, and rallied support for Communism. Like the ROSTA studio, TASS artists envisioned their massively-scaled posters for a wide and often illiterate audience, and employed stencils as the most dynamic artistic medium available.
For more information about the exhibition, please contact the gallery. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 am to 6 pm and by appointment.