Posters of the Cold War

Supermen poster by Roman Cieslewicz, Paris, 1968 (used on the cover of
Posters of the Cold War by David Crowley)
To coincide with the forthcoming Cold War Modern show at the V&A museum in London, V&A Publishing are set to release a book of posters from the period later this month. Edited by David Crowley (co-curator of the exhibition) Posters of the Cold War includes a selection of posters produced between 1945 and 1970. In our next issue, Crowley examines the role of the World’s Fairs and Expos that enabled nations to pit their cultural capital against each other during the post-war years. As a taster, we’ve picked a few of the most interesting posters from his new book, alongside his detailed description of each…

Cold War Modern Poster 12
Supermen poster by Roman Cieslewicz, Paris, 1968 (used on the cover of
Posters of the Cold War by David Crowley)

To coincide with the forthcoming Cold War Modern show at the V&A museum in London, V&A Publishing are set to release a book of posters from the period later this month. Edited by David Crowley (co-curator of the exhibition) Posters of the Cold War includes a selection of posters produced between 1945 and 1970. In our next printed issue, Crowley examines the role of the World’s Fairs and Expos that enabled nations to pit their cultural capital against each other during the post-war years. As a taster, we’ve picked a few of the most interesting posters from his new book, alongside his detailed contextual description of each…

Of the above poster, Crowley writes, “In the iconoclastic political atmosphere of the 1960s, many radicals were highly critical of the USA and the USSR. The superpowers were accused of exercising a destructive influence on the rest of the world and of betraying their own origins in revolutions motivated by high ideals. This point was made graphically by the Polish artist Roman Cieslewicz, who was living in Paris. In 1967 he depicted the two superpowers as mirror images of each other in a cover design for the Paris-based left-wing art magazine Opus International.”

Cold War Modern Poster 13
USA Builds poster by Max Bill, promoting an exhibition at the Kunstgewerbe-
museum, Zurich, 1945 © V&A images

“The USA Builds exhibition held at the Applied Arts Museum in Zurich just after the end of the Second World War was an early example of what was to become a major sphere of cultural exchange in the 1940s and 50s,” writes Crowley. “The USA invested considerable energy into promoting its culture in Europe, particularly after the announcement of the Marshall Plan in 1947 and the Cold War freeze in international relations of the 1940s. Designed by Max Bill, this poster represents a meeting of the European and American species of Modernism… A language of art based on the abstract forms of lines, planes and flat fields of colour was highly appealing to a post-war generation in Central Europe who had seen art conscripted into propaganda by the Nazis and the Soviets in the 1930s. At the same time, the images that fill the rhombuses in Bill’s design include New York skyscrapers and highways, archetypal expressions of American modernity.”

Cold War Modern Poster 1
Jo-Jo the Dove by an unknown designer, France, 1951 © V&A images

“Paix et Liberté was an anti-communist group in France that took up the cause of human rights in the Soviet Union,” says Crowley. “It was formed in response to the Stockholm Appeal of 1950, which called for a complete ban on nuclear weapons, initiated by the atomic scientist Frédéric Joliot-Curie. The figure of Stalin became a particular target, and his declaration of peaceful values was identified as empty rhetoric. In this poster of 1951 issued by Paix et Liberté, he is represented as a peace campaigner with dark intentions.”

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Don’t Brag About Your Job public information poster by Reginald Mount and
Eileen Evans, UK, 1960 © V&A images

“Although Western democratic states largely withdrew from the production of explicit graphic political propaganda after the Second World War, a small number of posters from the Cold War period can be found,” writes Crowley. “This poster, for display in government and military offices dealing with ‘sensitive’ material, reminded employees of the interest that Britain’s enemies might have in this information. Whilst not explicitly anti-communist, it drew on the fear of infiltration and espionage that fuelled Cold War paranoia and East-West enmity.”

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Stop Nuclear Suicide poster by FHK Henrion, shown in London Underground
stations, 1963 © V&A images

“FHK Henrion’s poster Stop Nuclear Suicide,” Crowley writes, “commissioned by CND, rejected the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), the military doctrine that argued that war was inconceivable when both sides possessed nuclear weapons. Combining a powerful historic symbol of death, the skull, with another modern one, the mushroom cloud released after a nuclear explosion, Henrion’s message was devastatingly simple.”

Cold War Modern Poster 10
Solidarity with the African American People by Lazaro Abreu (illustration by
Emory Douglas), Cuba, 1968 © V&A images

“This poster – issued by OSPAAAL (Organization of Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America) – emphasises Cuban solidarity with African-Americans fighting for their rights in the USA,” says Crowley. “Fidel Castro presented the Caribbean island as the friend of small nations living in the shadow of aggressive neighbours and a sanctuary for revolutionaries around the world.”

Cold War Modern Poster 7
The Tenth Anniversary of the Victory of the Bay of Pigs by Niko, Cuba, 1971
© V&A images

“In 1961 the Kennedy administration sanctioned an invasion of Cuba by anti-communist exiles to trigger what the CIA hoped would become an uprising on the island,” says Crowley. “The event was a debacle, partly because of Kennedy’s desire to make it look as if it had been conducted by Cuban exiles alone, and the counter-revolutionaries were repulsed at considerable cost to life. This event – known as the Victory of the Bay of Pigs – was written into Cuban history by Castro’s regime to lend weight to its claims for the inevitable success of the Cuban Revolution. Niko’s poster of 1971 – produced on the tenth anniversary of the failed invasion – is an elegant and efficient design capturing the sinking of an American vessel in a few simple bands of colour (though no such event occurred). The dishevelled Stars and Stripes ingeniously capture the disorder felt in Washington by the turn of events.”

Cold War Modern Poster 8
Save Our Planet by Richard Buckminster Fuller, USA, 1971 © V&A images

“In the early 1960s the American architect and visionary Richard Buckminster Fuller proposed changing the skyline of New York by installing a geodesic dome over Manhattan,” writes Crowley. “One mile high at its centre, this hemisphere was to be three times taller than the Empire State Building. Fuller’s logic was environmental. The dome, he claimed, would conserve wasted energy spent heating the city in the winter and air conditioning in the summer… Ten years later Fuller’s remarkable image was conscripted to provide a powerful symbol of the dark future facing the planet in the event of a nuclear war or rampant industrialisation. The poster was published by Olivetti, the Italian corporation, in a series of images by artists reflecting on the state of the planet.”

All quoted text © David Crowley and taken from Posters of the Cold War, published by V&A Publishing; £14.99 (£12 from the V&A’s online shop). Cold War Modern is at the V&A museum from 25 September until 11 January 2009. Some of the posters featured in Crowley’s book will also be on display in the museum.

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