Duck Duck Book


30 – revolutionary tides
02.16.2006, 12:00 pm
Filed under: art & entertainment

Revolutionary tides : the art of the political poster, 1914-1989 / Jeffrey T. Schnapp. 
Milano, Italy : Skira in association with Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University ; New York : Distributed in North America by Rizzoli, 2005.
[MCL call number: 741.67 S357r 2005; two copies, no holds]

It is something of a cliché that longing to be part of something larger than ourselves is a basic human characteristic.  We are social animals, and we like to be around other people; even, sometimes, when being with other people means being in a crowd.

Schnapp and several other researchers in the Humanities Laboratory at Stanford University are engaged in a study of crowds, which led to an exhibit of political propaganda posters of the twentieth century.  Revolutionary Tides is the catalog of this exhibition, with color illustrations of 117 posters.

What I find most interesting about this kind of poster is the emotional response they evoke in me.  I'm sure it's partly due to the fact that their artistic style appeals to me, but I think there are other reasons too.  The surest power of this medium is perhaps to pull us slightly out of our own lives. 

Here's an example: on page 112 of Revolutionary Tides there is a recruitment poster for the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women's branch of the British army during the Second World War) — looking at the poster I felt a jump in my heart and it made me realize how very much I would want to do something collective and constructive if I were living actually in a war zone.  I would like to think that joining the military would never fill this need for me, but were I a suggestible young woman at the right time and place, I might well heed the call of that poster.

There are many books detailing the history of twentieth century political posters, especially posters produced during the first and second world wars.  This one is somewhat unusual in that it covers a longer period of time, concentrates on posters depicting crowds and masses, and includes posters from many different countries and political perspectives.  Most of the illustrations are of posters from the United States, the USSR, and Germany, but there are some also from Iran, Poland, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Hungary, and other countries.

There is no index, but the book's main section of illustrations is followed by detailed notes about each poster, and by a terse bibliography. 

The Revolutionary Tides exhibit is currently on tour and will be at the Wolfsonian museum at Florida International University in Miami Beach, Florida from February 24 – June 25 of this year.

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