Soviet Propaganda Invades St. Mary’s College


Visitors to St. Mary’s can learn about propaganda posters.

Courtesy st. Mary’s College Museum of Art

Political propaganda, aka fake news or alt facts, has taken on new currency and importance in the digital era, with sense and nonsense proclaimed in hectic, indiscriminate profusion. Public-minded citizens now have to become fact-checkers and resist the echo-chamber trap of like begetting like, algorithmically. Trolls from the Internet Research Association in St. Petersburg, meet your counterparts at Fox News and Talk Radio. In our current 1984-ish climate, Darker Shades of Red: Soviet Propaganda Posters from the Cold War Era is a timely and important show examining how mass media, informed by marketing know-how turbocharged by digital profiling, manufactures consent.

The use or co-optation of art for sociopolitical ends is well-known today. The replacement of Russian avant-garde artists who believed in Lenin’s Bolshevik revolution by academically trained artists who would serve Stalin’s autocracy a generation later is a perfect example. Fifty-five posters in the powerful Socialist Realist style, made from the 1940s until the collapse of the USSR in 1991, and collected by the Florida art restorer, Gary Hollingsworth, are shown here.

Readers of a certain age will remember that Socialist Realism, an eclectic mixture of styles, was exported to post-revolutionary China during the Cold War for the education of its masses and derided as retrograde by advanced (read: Abstract) capitalist artists and their patrons. It is time to recognize the aesthetic merit of this work, whatever we think of the politics, and to become aware of political manipulation, with Two-Minute Hates, on demand, all the time, now a commonplace. Long live the democratic republic!

A series of talks is scheduled from Feb. 28 through May 2, with guided tours every Thursday at 11 a.m.; see the website for details. Darker Shades of Red runs through May 20; St. Mary’s College Museum of Art, 1928 Saint Mary’s Road, Moraga, 925-631-4379,

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