Deconstructing Perestroika

To mark the 20th anniversary of the USSR’s demise in 1991, the Wende Museum and Archive of the Cold War, in collaboration with the Craft and Folk Art Museum, have produced an exhibition of poster art titled Deconstructing Perestroika: Soviet Ideology and its Discontents. Comprised of 24 political posters produced in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the exhibit seeks to shed light on the ways in which some Soviet artists responded to the dramatic changes and upheaval of their society, as well as to the new found freedom of expression and insistence on transparency that were the hallmarks of Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (re-structuring).

Ljiljana Grubisic

Ljiljana Grubisic. Photo by Mark Hayes

I recently visited the Craft and Folk Art Museum to tour this new exhibition. My guide for the afternoon was Ljiljana Grubisic, PhD, Director of Collections and Public Programs at the Wende Museum and curator of the exhibition. It’s not often I have the opportunity to tour a gallery with the person who actually put the show together, and it was definitely a treat.

Grubisic graciously spent about an hour walking me through the exhibit hall. She placed the artwork within the political context of the time and engaged me in an interesting discussion about the meaning of each poster. One thing that surprised me was that the artists represented in the show were largely unknown and remain so today. Their obscurity added to the sense that what I was looking at was ephemeral – a reflection of a moment in time that faded as quickly as it was born.

While I had seen some of the posters during my first visit to the Wende Museum, an experience I wrote about in a January 2011 post, their impact on me personally was far greater this time around. I think that’s because the exhibition presented a collection of posters displayed side-by-side and provided a context within which I could begin to understand their subject matter. When taken together, the works conveyed the weight of Soviet history and the political and social tensions of the day more fully than was possible when I viewed several of the posters individually.

Photo by Mark Hayes.

Photo by Mark Hayes.

As Grubisic explains in the exhibition brochure, “The works in this exhibition criticize the Soviet founding fathers – namely, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin – lofty government goals, the terrible suffering of Soviet citizens, monumental failures, and the impending demise of the Soviet Union. Relying on complex symbolism and a pictorial vocabulary that is both universal and Russian, they convey the country’s longstanding and pent-up moral outrage.”

The posters were created using gouache, watercolors, tempera and photo collage and were mounted on standard sized, state issued fiberboard and cardboard. Grubisic points out that the posters in the exhibition represent a short lived genre that had its roots in “…traditional Soviet agitprop but without its previously overt support for the state.”

Whether you lived in the USSR or somewhere else in the world, whether you were alive when the Soviet Union collapsed or have just read about it in books, this exhibit will shed new light on a fascinating period in history when the diverse peoples who comprised the Soviet Union were grappling with rapid change and struggling to come to terms with a painful history. “The works in this exhibition…convey the country’s longstanding and pent-up moral outrage,” said Grubisic. “The satirical bite of these artworks speaks vividly of a nation going through unprecedented economic and political turmoil, while nevertheless projecting high hopes for a future that does not repeat the mistakes of the past.” 

One final thought – the Craft and Folk Art Museum has an excellent gift shop, so if you’re looking for a unique item for a friend of family member, be sure to check it out when you visit. 


When: January 28 – May 6, 2012

Monday: Closed
Tuesday – Friday: 11 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday: 12 pm – 6 pm

Where: The Craft and Folk Art Museum, located at 5814 Wilshire Boulevard (at Curson) 
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Members: Free
General: $7
Students and Seniors: $5
Children under 10: Free
First Wednesday of every month: Free