ROTTERDAM.- In anticipation of the Olympic Games Kunsthal Rotterdam presents a broad selection of Chinese posters, originating from the two largest and internationally authoritative collections in the world. China in Posters provides the audience with an historical survey of seven decennia of Chinese poster art, in which both the periods before, during and after Mao are covered. Some of the posters on display are extremely rare and no longer available in China. This exhibition belongs to a successful series of exhibitions on Asian Art in 2004 for instance, the Kunsthal presented a large collection of North Korean Propaganda Art.
Brushed Up Happiness
The oldest poster from the exhibition dates from 1937 and was made at the time of the Second Chinese-Japanese war. This poster is highly rare and calls on the people of China to beat the enemy. With the proclamation of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949 the number of posters produced increased explosively, reaching its utmost height during the Cultural Revolution (1966-69). China deployed its very best artists in order to promote the communistic range of thought. Party Chairman Mao and his theory, as stated in and symbolized by the little red book, are present on many of the posters. Knowing that only a few of the 2,2 billion posters depicting Mao have been preserved, makes these posters even more special.
Certain military figures, farmers, workers and intellectuals presented on the posters served as paragons for the rest of the population. They often show a clear resemblance to movie stars: they have got a wide, confident and combative expression on their faces and have been portrayed looking as attractive as they possibly can. They were clearly meant to set a good example to the public. As opposed to posters from the West, the texts on Chinese posters have been put on the outer borders of the images, urging the people to Produce more, contribute more. The optimism expressed by these posters is striking, as is the endless energy they are the results of a somewhat brushed up reality, in which enthusiasm, happiness and excitement over the future dominate.
History of China
The posters visualize the modern history of China from the thirties up to the Olympic Games in 2008. Workers, farmers and soldiers set an example to the public during The Great Leap Forward (1958-1960) by working firmly on creating the China as Mao had envisioned it: an industrial nation with an enormous steel production. During the Cultural Revolution the posters showed wildly enthusiastic men and women waving their red books fanatically. In the course of time the tone of the political message and the way people were portrayed changed. Although propaganda and symbolism remained present in the posters that were produced after the death of Mao in 1976, the militant and political messages were more and more pushed aside to make way for posters stimulating and canalizing consumptive behaviour. Western influence had evidently reached China.
The posters belong to collections from the International Institute for Social History (IISG) and from Stefan Landsberger (University of Leiden, University of Amsterdam).