About The Seattle Moscow Poster Show
The Seattle Moscow Poster Show
The Seattle-Moscow Poster Show will be the third in a series of cross-cultural exhibitions highlighting graphic artists from the city of Seattle alongside those from the capitols of nations often at odds politically with the United States—namely Cuba, Iran and Russia. Focusing on the poster as cultural expression, this series has united cities through thoughtful exchanges of contemporary design work shared with the public. The goal of these exhibits is to break down stereotypes on either side and encourage simple acts of citizen-to-citizen diplomacy through the arts.
The Seattle-Moscow Poster Show is a selection of approximately 50 posters, half from each city, sharing cultural themes such as music, film, theater and contemporary art. Moscow artists will range from established designers, such as Ostengruppe, to younger talents inspired primarily by street art and graffiti like Sicksystems and Mainstreamers. Russian posters will be paired with the work of well-known Seattle designers, such as Jeff Kleinsmith and Coby Schultz and Barry Ament of Ames Bros, plus a host of younger designers who are experimenting in the wide-open medium of rock posters.
The Seattle-Moscow Poster Show will debut at Seattle's largest art and music festival, Bumbershoot, September 4-7, 2009. After the festival, selections from the exhibit will hang in a variety of public locations throughout Seattle between September and November, 2009. The curator, Seattle's Daniel R. Smith, hopes to send the exhibition to Moscow in 2010.
In this third and final poster show linking Seattle to cities around the world (following Havana and Tehran), I chose to visit Moscow. My decision was based on the strong tradition of Russian graphic design, current and historical political differences between our countries, and the idea of exploring design in a post-revolutionary culture—a thematic bond that unites Havana, Tehran and Moscow from the perspective of the United States.
Before my visit I expected some aspect of Soviet rule to color the lives and livelihoods of the designers I interviewed. Nothing could be further from the truth, at least to the outside observer. Moscow is a fast-paced, consumer-driven city of 13 million people where the images and iconography of Soviet rule are fodder for touristic tchotchkes and nostalgic restaurants—in other words, pure kitsch absent the emotional and political power one would expect from an image of Castro in Havana, even 20 years from now.
Designers in Moscow are not bound by any uniting philosophy to work for or against; no impenetrable barriers of censorship exist, nor limits on information or political pitfalls to navigate. Unburdened by the demands of an all-encompassing loyalty to the state—and therefore with little left to kick against—they are pursuing their own ideas in a culture acutely aware of trends and poised on the edge of setting them.
What defines "Moscow style" today is a willingness to take risks, to adapt to and adopt from images and ideas around the world at an accelerated pace without regard to origin, history or context. They are equally inspired by the work of Russian Constructivists as they are by New York City graffiti artists of the '80s. Fascinating in this fractured process is the spin given to both American and Russian cultural icons as they are reflected out.
The absence of strict cultural boundaries, the irreverence in regard to history and politics is exciting. I came away from Moscow with yet another lesson on how false our political divides can be. Seemingly intractable differences between us have disappeared, revealing how much alike we truly are. Moscow designers do not simply react to "western culture," (their words, not mine) they are deeply ingrained in it, pushing us forward in provocative ways.
To read more about the exhibit, see these AIGA XCD blog postings:
Design Diplomat I: Daniel R. Smith on Curating America's Most Dangerous Poster Shows
Design Diplomat II: Daniel R. Smith on Assembling The Seattle-Moscow Poster Show