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You Never Know What You Might Find. . .

The TASS posters that form the heart of the upcoming exhibition Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad 1941–45 (opening July 2011) are exceptionally rare, owing to the fragile, poor-quality (wartime) paper on which they were painted. They were designed to be immediately evocative, plastered up on Moscow's public walls or carried in soldiers' backpacks to the front line, and not meant to stand the archival test of time. The story of how this impressive collection survived the 20th century is an epic tale in itself.

Our staff was not immediately aware of these posters’ historical or cultural significance when they first saw them in 1942. In fact, after the Allied victory concluded the devastating years of WWII and Cold War tensions with Russia set in, the posters—and those who initially knew about them—faded from memory.

More than fifty years after the end of the war, in 1997, the Art Institute began to prepare for reconstruction of a new space to house the Prints & Drawings department. In the process, museum staff inventoried a hardly-used storage space used for long-term housing of oversized framed works that could not be taken off-site. On the highest shelf, above the deep compartments for frames and totally obscured from view, was a trough. To their total surprise, they rediscovered a cache of 22 neatly wrapped paper parcels. Accompanying the folded packages of all the TASS material was a large selection of other rolled posters spanning the timeframe of the 1890s through WWII—a veritable time capsule.

TASS Post2

This poster is the earliest one in our collection, TASS 470, titled Sailors-Guardsmen, and produced June 26, 1942 by Konstantin Vyalov (Russian, 1900-1976) with a poem by Vasily Lebedev-Kumach (Russian, 1898-1949). One of the smallest posters in our holdings, it is still nearly six feet tall. It was sent in the first parcel of works to arrive at the Art Institute in July of 1942.

Who sent them to Chicago and why? Watch for my next post…

–Jill B., Research Associate, Department of Prints and Drawings

Fascists pirates, do not hope
To escape alive from the Guardsmen,
If the Guardsmen happens to meet you, the enemy -
Destruction is coming your way.

Konstantin Aleksandrovich Vyalov
Russian, 1900-1976
Sailors-Guardsmen, June 26, 1942
Multicolor brush stencil on newsprint
1765 x 750 mm
Gift of the USSR Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries