St Petersburg’s artists are redrawing the boundaries for Russian poster art

St Petersburg’s artists are redrawing the boundaries for Russian poster art
Image: Katya Nikitina

14 June 2021
Text: Polina Arzhenovskova

A new exhibition in St Petersburg is exploring how Russian graphic designers combine style cues from Soviet propaganda, pop-art, and the avant-garde to reclaim poster art as a tool for creative freedom in a digital society.

“When I think of 1920s Soviet posters, I have a distinct collective image in mind. Yet one can hardly imagine a typical modern poster,” says Yuliya Rybakova, curator of Petersburg Poster: Here and Now. She joined forces with graphic designer Daniil Vyatkin to create an open-call for the exhibition, which will be taking place both online and at the Pushkinskaya-10 art centre from 26 June to 29 August.

Image: Artem Gridnev | “'Wish You Were Here': a musical created by an inclusive team”
Image: Katya Nikitina | “Cinderella”
Image: Dmitrij Shurov | “The old man’s shadow”

Unconstrained by theme, the featured artists use their work to dole out explicit social satire, demanding peace, freedom of speech, and self-expression. Others reflect on the lockdown life and scrutinise millennial and Gen Z culture.

By combining minimalism and socialist realism, traditional Russian culture and futuristic motifs, the illustrators call on viewers to reflect on modern society, often unveiling social absurdity. Exhibits vary from vibrant, dynamic collages with chaotic hand-written headlines, to abstract and discrete sketches.

Rather than being informative, these modern placards strive for brief plainspoken messages, the curator says. “Artists are leaving behind metaphors and figurative language, preferring abstract forms, illegible texts, and distorted fonts,” Rybakova told The Calvert Journal. “In the information age, a poster’s priority is to grab your attention.” For that, illustrators have to be straightforward, eccentric, and groundbreaking.

Image: Katya Nikitina | “Little Longnose”
Image: Katya Nikitina | “Little Longnose”
Image: Filip Krasovskij
Image: Filip Krasovskij
Image: Kristina Boyarkina | “Have you forgotten which country you live in?”
Image: Kristina Boyarkina | “Have you forgotten which country you live in?”
Image: Artem Gridnev
Image: Artem Gridnev
Image: Ekaterina Kostyrya
Image: Ekaterina Kostyrya
Image: Tanya Safonova | “Stay Home”
Image: Tanya Safonova | “Stay Home”
Image: Irina Voronina | “Where is your hat?”
Image: Irina Voronina | “Where is your hat?”
Image: Prozritel | “See the light!”
Image: Prozritel | “See the light!”