First class persuasion

  • 2006-10-18
  • By June Risum Scheibel

PROPER PROPAGANDA: A new exhibit at Arsenals celebrates 130 years of poster art in Latvia. But it focuses on the most disturbing and fascinating period from 1945 until 1991.

RIGA - The posters used to hang in the street where everyone was forced to see them, but Arsenals exhibition hall has now turned them into astonishing works of art. Understanding poster art is essential, whether you are into blood-shedding revolutions, horrific political propaganda or simply eager to get to know Latvian culture. The posters range from simple sketches to colorful paintings and they all invite you into the collective Latvian mind for the past 130 years. One also gets a glimpse of concrete social issues reflected in today's street-art.

The exhibit pays special attention to Latvian poster art from 1945 to 1991, which documents the historical course of the country. "Please save the neutrality of Latvia 's we ask our shopkeepers not to speak of war," a message pleads in a simple, blank poster from 1939. There are brutal persuasive looks from every one of the posters, staring right down at you. In a commanding poster from 1962 a female industrial worker orders you to "Go to work!" ("Ej stradat!") while staring at a lazy Marilyn Monroe-like figure reading popular magazines. You have to smile.

My historical walk carries me somewhat closer to the Latvians. The 300 posters mirror the nation's cross section between culture and power.
This medium is one of a kind. The posters here are, at once, street art and major ideological forces. The format remains the same, but the styles and concepts vary and trigger your imagination in countless directions.
The exhibition also offers a small view into international poster art. There's the "I want YOU for U.S. Army," which had a print run of 5 million in 1917, "I [heart] NY" from 1973 and much else.

The exhibit is divided into five sections of historical posters. A sixth section, "Urna 2," consists of present contributions from Latvian artists. Here you vote for your favorite poster among a collection of socially conscious street art.
And if you want, you can even buy a print copy of an exhibited poster that especially caught your eye.

"Retrospective of Latvian posters"
Exhibition hall "Arsenals" of the National Museum of Art, Runs until Nov. 11
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