Bold text surrounds a black-and-white photograph of Joseph Stalin in this Soviet poster from 1931. The poster was designed to reinforce the tenets of a speech by the leader, delivered to a meeting of industrial managers in June of the same year. The speech outlined six conditions for new industrial development, all of which are reproduced on the poster. Such extensive quotation might seem counterintuitive to arresting design, but the anonymous designer of this work manipulates the text as a graphic element. The speech itself is not particularly stirring—Stalin urges the industrialists to “liquidate the instability of the labor force” and “implement and strengthen economic accounting.” However, when printed in bright, contrasting colors and arranged at different angles, the text excites the eye, its visual dynamism compensating for its content.

In the year this poster was printed, the Art Department of the State Publishing House (IZOGIZ) assumed complete control of Soviet poster output.  IZOGIZ centralized and expanded poster production, and subjected designers to an unprecedented level of regulation. The department instructed them which slogans and images to use, and which themes to emphasize. This is an IZOGIZ poster, and we can infer that many elements of its design were dictated by Party officials. Like other posters of this period, it features a photo of Stalin dressed the ordinary attire of a worker or low-ranking soldier. Even as he cultivates the appearance of an everyman, his picture commands authority. In posters of the late 1920’s, Lenin’s image typically accompanied Stalin’s, to legitimize the early years of his reign. This began to change in 1931, after the painter Isaak Brodsky distributed a portrait of the leader alone, standing causally in a work shirt. As it grew more common to depict Stalin without Lenin, his image became synonymous with state power.  Designers had previously used anonymous workers and unattributed slogans to connote Soviet strength, but they began to replace these with the words and likeness of Stalin. A New Situation—New Conditions for Economic Victory is an early example of this new strategy. Here, quotes from Stalin’s speech are printed at a diagonal angle, as if emerging straight from his head. Their association with the leader lends the words implicit importance, as evident today as it would have been to Soviet viewers.

Virginia McBride was the 2014 Peter Krueger curatorial intern in the Department of Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She studies art history at Kenyon College.

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