Cold War Graphics

The graphic story of the Cold War era is told through a series of posters. ‘They are vivid images’ is how David Crowley describes them, and a ‘powerful visual narrative of the age’. Many seem strikingly contemporary, such as a poster for the exhibition ‘USA Baut’ (1945) by the Bauhaus and Walter Gropius pupil Max Bill, while others seem eerily timeless.

One such is a poster for the Marshall Plan, the US financing package to help rebuild Europe. Created by Gaston Van den Eynde in 1950, it is a delicate image of new growth. The young plant, set against a Surrealist blue sky, has tender blossom, a reference to Europe, and is supported by the ‘stake’ of the US. ‘There’s no reference to ruin or rubble,’ says Crowley. ‘It’s [an image] of growth and promise. An almost amnesiac image. The past was a huge problem for Germany, Italy and France at that time.’

Next came an age of competition, with East and West attempting to outdo each other in modernity. It is tempered with fears of nuclear holocaust, famously depicted in FHK Henrion’s 1963 photomontage poster for CND that featured a skull in the nuclear mushroom cloud. ‘The image was thought so controversial that it was banned from public transport,’ says Crowley.

An optimistic contrast comes from the Soviet designer Viktor Koretsky. Pure propaganda, it depicts the benefits of consumerism, not something we associate with the Soviet Union, nor one many Russians would recognise. ‘A grey world of shortages,’ is how Crawley describes our image of the Soviet Union. ‘But this poster is full of colour and plenty.’

By the 1960s, campaigners were highlighting human rights abuses in the Soviet Union. However, there were graphic hints of this much earlier. A 1952 poster by an unknown designer for the French group Paix et Liberté depicts Joseph Stalin supposedly bringing peace, but with a dove tethered to his trousers and a spiked club in his hand. He is a grubby, dishevelled figure, skulking in the shadows. ‘It says that peace activism was a front for Soviet mendacity,’ says Crawley.



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