Chinese Propaganda Posters: From the Collection of Michael Wolf (Taschen), 320 pages, $54.95 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Chinese propaganda art is hip. Now that China has gone from ideological enemy to manufacturing friend - and evil propaganda has morphed into benevolent advertising - we can relax and admire the truly stunning quality of the state-sanctioned artistic production of the 60s, 70s and 80s. If you missed the impressive Power Plant show a year ago titled Art Of The Great Proletarian Revolution, this lovely and sizable offering from Taschen, German visual tome maker extraordinaire, is a good primer.
The image plates, taken from the collection of photographer Michael Wolf, vary both in quality (it's hard to reproduce posters and books, a number of which have small imperfections and tears) and artistic style. Though they were created with one vision and for one purpose, subtle differences burst through, revealing a group of tremendously talented artists.
The three essays included in the book are fascinating but brief; I wish there were more info. Anchee Min fawns over Chairman Mao and recalls her own childhood aspiration to be in a propaganda poster. A skeptical anti-communist viewpoint is given by Duo Duo, a writer and poet who, as a young boy, was featured in a poster holding a large carp. Stefan R. Landsberger's essay brings an historical perspective to the subject, discussing the evolution of style and content in Chinese propaganda across the decades.
That change is reflected in the plates. In the 60s, the art is simple, full of thick black outlines, flat colours and shallow depth of field. In the 70s, more complex and realistic drawings came into vogue, and by the 80s, when technology was as much the rage among Chinese communists as Western capitalists, there was a lot of crazy sci-fi-looking stuff going on.
This breezy flip of a book ends with a chapter on the Chinese/Lunar New Year, which falls on Thursday (January 22) this year. Pictures of jubilant children playing amid bountiful flowers and fruits bear good tidings such as "Peaches bring long life."
Happy new year.