Viktor Koretsky at Smart Museum of Art, Chicago (2011-12)

Vision and Communism

Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago
Chicago, Illinois
29 September 2011 - 22 January 2012

Press release text by Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago

From the heart of the Cold War, advertising for a Communist future that never arrived

The University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art presents Vision and Communism, the first major museum exhibition to focus on the aggressive, emotionally charged work of Soviet artist and designer Viktor Koretsky (1909-1998). Featuring more than ninety posters, photographs, and maquettes— the majority of which date from the heart of the Cold War— the exhibition reveals a Communist vision of the world that is utterly unlike that of conventional propaganda.

“Twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Viktor Koretsky and his art remain largely unknown in the West,” said Anthony Hirschel, the Dana Feitler Director of the Smart Museum. “But he created a powerful and provocative body of work that deserves close consideration because of the important questions it raises about the nature and emotional potential of visual communication in the Soviet Union.”

In the last thirty years of the USSR, Viktor Koretsky’s art sought to ensure world Communism’s moral health. In contrast to more conventional Soviet propaganda— filled with happy workers, glorious leaders, and uplifting slogans— Koretsky created striking scenes of survival and suffering that were designed to create an emotional connection between Soviet citizens and others struggling for civil rights and independence around the globe. This vision of a multicultural world of shared sacrifice offered a dynamic alternative to the sleek consumerism of Madison Avenue and the West and, according to the exhibition curators, can be thought of “as a kind of Communist advertising for a future that never quite arrived.”

Vision and Communism is part of the Soviet Arts Experience, a Chicago-wide showcase exploring the arts of Soviet Union. The exhibition’s themes will be considered in depth during a daylong symposium on October 14 and extended to cinema through a film series featuring the work of Aleksandr Medvedkin and Chris Marker at the University of Chicago’s Film Studies Center.

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About Viktor Koretsky

Coming of age at the close of the relative artistic freedom and dynamic avant-garde experiments that defined the Soviet 1920s, Viktor Koretsky (1909, Kiev – 1998, Moscow) belongs to the generation of Soviet artists who negotiated the fraught landscape of Socialist Realism and Stalinist political repression. After being educated in Moscow art schools, Koretsky embarked on a professional career as a poster artist in 1931. And even in these early years, he did not adhere to the narrow orthodoxy of official Socialist Realist method. Instead, he sought out the most innovative work in poster design, both in the USSR and abroad— including familiarizing himself with the photomontages of artists such as Gustav Klucis, Valentina Kulagina, and John Heartfield. In these early years, Koretsky began experimenting with a variety of new visual techniques, even as he contributed graphic work to various publishing houses and theater companies.

During World War II, known in the USSR as The Great Patriotic War, Viktor Koretsky became famous for his powerful, emotionally charged images produced on behalf of the war effort. His design for the anti-Nazi poster Save Us!, which depicts a Soviet woman and child, evoking a modern-day Madonna and Child, being threatened by a Wehrmacht (German army) bayonet, is arguably the most well-known work of Soviet propaganda from the entire era. In the postwar years Koretsky diversified his art by taking on new subjects, many of them dealing with themes of international cooperation, such as Soviet-led campaigns for human rights and nuclear disarmament. In 1964, Koretsky received one of the most prestigious awards for a Soviet artist, the title of “Honored Artist of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.” Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Koretsky’s art continued to grow in international stature, as younger generations of Eastern European poster artists adopted his aggressive, confrontational visual style.

Viktor Koretsky’s posters have long been in the collections of Moscow’s Russian State Library, the Central Museum of Russian Armed Forces, the Office of the Moscow Mayor, and St. Petersburg’s State Public Library. More recently his works have entered numerous private collections and museums worldwide.

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