Thursday, September 09, 2010

Discreetly located on the basement level of an apartment complex in
Shanghai's French Concession sector, the Propaganda Poster Center is a
showcase of collector Yang Pei Ming's commitment to keeping a
controversial history alive. As the elevator took me from the
collection back to the residential setting of the first floor, I
thought about the posters I had just seen and their journey through
various exhibition spaces over the course of their lives. As I
understood from Yang Pei Ming's guided tour, these posters were
original products of the revolutionary era following the establishment
of the People's Republic in 1949. Artists had created these posters to
be mass-reproduced, shown on the street, and serving the purpose of
inspiring collective political feeling that corresponded with the
Communist Party's goals. Now displayed in the quiet refuge of Yang Pei
Ming's modest museum, the posters serve as historical documentation of
the interdependence between art and politics dur
ing the Maoist era.
During our time in the museum, we followed the chronological
placement of the posters, walking from the left side of the
entrance—the early period of the Communist Party—and circling through
to the right side of the entrance—the peak of Mao Zedong's cult of
personality. We observed the changing techniques of social realism
over time, noticing the transition from the colorful, varied
portrayals of idealized civilian life to the stylized images of Mao
and his supporters, depicted in bold black lines and aggressive shades
of red. Seeing the plastic covering each of the posters, I was kept
aware of the rarity of the artwork in the present day. Not only are
the posters valuable because they are tangible evidence of the ideas
pervading a bygone time, but also because they are now objects of
government apprehension, having survived the mass destruction of
propaganda art during the post-Mao period. As I left the apartment
complex and looked back at the indescript setting of the po
werful art I had just witnessed, I thought about Yang Pei Ming's
efforts to protect people's access to a controversial past.
Stephanie Hsu

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