Selected from the collection of David Olien, these Cold War-era posters reflect the changing cultural and political movements that characterized the Soviet regime. From hardline communist themes at the height of the Cold War to those reflecting a gradual movement toward greater openness and interaction with the United States, these posters provide a glimpse into the former Marxist-Leninist propaganda machine.
David Olien grew up in an era when the Soviets represented the principle existential threat to the United States. A child of the post-World War II period, Olien experienced the grim realities of the Cold War, including the incessant saber rattling from the Soviet
Union and its proxies throughout the world. As a young boy in New Richmond, Wisconsin Olien took part in obligatory “duck and cover” drills at school, and later witnessed the parade of Wisconsin National Guardsman down Main Street on their way to Ft. Lewis, Washington during the Berlin Airlift Crisis. He wrote of the incident, “Watching them leave us gave us the sense that the Cold War was very real.”
Within a year of graduating from college in 1970, Olien began to take a series of trips to Europe. By 1975, the prolonged political and cultural rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union began to thaw somewhat and Olien took advantage of the rare opportunity to travel to the USSR. Despite strict travel and shopping restrictions, Olien was able to acquire a number of Soviet propaganda posters. Many of the posters from this period encouraged hardline Soviet attitudes based upon the typical communist propaganda themes of class warfare, and anti-capitalism. An exception to the rule was a poster that celebrated the joint Apollo-Soyuz Test Project – an obvious symbol of the policy of détente being pursued by both nations.
In 1989, Olien returned to the same shops where he had purchased posters in 1975. He found them virtually unchanged, but the anti-American posters had been replaced with examples that celebrated perestroika—the political reform movements that help hasten the collapse of the old Soviet system.
In 2011, David Olien donated his collection of 22 Soviet posters to The WisconsinThis exhibit is on display October 5 - December 31, 2012.