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Back to the USSR: Soviet tourism posters on show
Hell hole? Hell no! Soviet tourism posters on display at a London exhibition paint a picture of an earthly paradise
A holiday? In the Soviet Union?
A healthy spell wielding a plow on a collective farm, perhaps?
Or maybe a not-so-short stay in a gulag?
All vicious propaganda if you believed tourism chiefs in the 1930s Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
A fascinating exhibition in London of early Soviet tourism posters -- the inaugural show at the Gallery for Russian Arts and Design (GRAD) -- reveals a land apparently close to the earthly paradise promised by communism’s pioneers.
Bold, bright art deco designs by some of the most talented Soviet artists and designers show off health resorts, romantic forests, soaring mountain drives and golden beaches -- complete with gushing oil pylons off-shore -- within Russia and her loyal socialist republics.
The exhibition startlingly refutes any lingering impression you might have had that Russia under Stalin, in the early decades at least, was a forbidding place that sought to keep away foreigners’ prying eyes.
On the contrary: through Intourist, the Soviet tourism agency, communist propagandists sought to promote the USSR as a superior civilization -- or getting there, anyway -- to which other countries might aspire.
Foreigners on a recce -- presumably as long as they avoided those gulags -- were more than welcome.
More prosaically, in those post-revolutionary years, the Soviet Union desperately needed hard foreign cash for industrialization.
Then, as now, in developing countries, tourism could help pave the way to a better future.
Through tourism, too, these often beautiful posters paint a picture of an optimistic age (assuredly this wasn't the case for the early victims of Stalin’s repression) that would soon come crashing to an end.
Such bustling, cheerful, often paradisiacal scenes would have been far harder to conjure after the horrors of World War II.
The task of representing Russia as a tourism destination now, with its flashy billionaire class on the one hand and political crackdowns on the other, surely remains a work in progress.
“See USSR” is on display at the Grad Gallery (3-4a Little Portland St., London; +44 (0)20 7693 1000) until the end of August.