14 August 2013
Last updated at 03:30 ET
When you think of Soviet propaganda, the images that come to mind are of hammers, sickles and severe portraits of Stalin. But, from 1929, the USSR attempted a very different form of marketing - selling the country to foreigners as a desirable tourist destination. A new exhibition looks at some of the images they created.
"Intourist was created in 1929 to bring in foreign currency for the fledgling Soviet economy," explains curator Elena Sudakova. Early designs, such as this example from 1935, "favoured form over content and highlighted the exotic and adventurous attractions of the Soviet Union".
Attracting a "capitalist audience was a new challenge" for Intourist's designers, says Sudakova, "so they often took inspiration" from the West. "This poster closely resembles a 1930 German travel advertisement but it has been imbued with the vigorous athleticism required by Socialist Realism."
"Glamorous young women lounging under giant umbrellas or driving in fast cars, their scarves billowing in the wind, often appeared in Intourist posters, painting a picture of jazz-age abandonment at odds with Soviet reality," says Sudakova. This advertisement extols the virtues of Russian health spas, of which there were none.
Trading on the reputation of composers like Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff, Intourist organised a series of arts festivals "as part of their 'cultural diplomacy' policy," says Sudakova. "These posters, together with features in Intourist publications, aimed to secure the attendance of Western intellectuals."
With an eye on lucrative Western markets, the advertisements highlighted the opportunities for luxury travel in the Soviet Bloc - while hinting at the technological muscle that made it possible. This image "makes visual references" to Battleship Potemkin, "with a roll of film framing the Odessa Steps," says Sudakova.
The exhibition contrasts the breezy informality of Intourist's posters and the USSR's internal propaganda. "Aeroplanes, used in Intourist posters to suggest fast and comfortable travel, are here deployed as symbols of military and industrial supremacy," says Sudokova. The exhibition, entitled See USSR, runs until 31 August at the Gallery for Russian Art and Design in London, in association with Antikbar.