Hand-Painted Agitprop

Two dozen late-Soviet era posters, plus a few toppled heads of Lenin, are on view in the Craft and Folk Art Museum’s “Deconstructing Perestroika: Soviet Ideology and Its Discontents.” The posters sample a 234-piece collection assembled by Beverly Hills High Russian studies teacher Tom Ferris and acquired by the Wende Museum and Archive of the Cold War in 2008. In its Culver City home, the Wende’s fantastic collection is open only Fridays, or by appointment. A bit of weekend Museum Row exposure is a good thing.

Each of the 2D works at CFAM is a polychrome political cartoon about the last days of the Soviet Union. Most qualify as Museum of Modern Art-worthy specimens of the art of the political poster. You might imagine that MoMA already has copies. Nope. Each is a unique hand-painted or collaged masterpiece, typically in tempera on cardboard. This was underground art, and the Perestroika-era dissidents didn’t own the lithograph presses.

The exhibition chronicles the tail end of a revolution that once extolled Malevich, Rodchenko, and Eisenstein as expressions of its values. By the 1950s the CIA had co-opted modernism, and the Soviet line on art was strictly Norman Rockwell. Many of the 1980s works here goof on art history, Russian and otherwise. Aleksei A. Rezaev burlesques Pieter Bruegel’s Tower of Babel as a timeline of the Soviet rise and fall.

Like the abstraction of Malevich or Pollock, political art can be a license to daydream. Andrei Evgen’evich Kosolov’s Beat the Whites With the Red Wedge (1990, top of post) is a sacrilegious mash-up of Mantegna’s sincerely Christian Lamentation of Christ and El Lissitsky’s sincerely Communist 1919 poster for the Red Army. Meet CSI Twentieth Century, the Doubting Thomas.

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