Russian Cartoons & Posters: From Red Tape to Red Square (G-1)


Russian Cartoons & Posters: From Red Tape to Red Square (G-1)


This collection consists of items from the art exhibit “Bureaucracy in Russian Art: Posters and Political Cartoons" (2010), produced by Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, School of Public Affairs and Administration,  in collaboration with the American University of Armenia and the Department of Sociology, St. Petersburg University, Russia. The collection features works that satirize bureaucracy.

Russian artists, like their American counterparts, have been calling our attention to conflicts between efficiency and ethics in organizational life, including ethical dilemmas faced by public servants; the unintended consequences for employees and clients of large bureaucratic organizational structures; and ways in which individuals are frustrated by, and cope with, large systems.

The exhibits in this gallery demonstrate the perception of the Russian artists that bureaucracy is dysfunctional, enervating, and inefficient, the antithesis of creativity, and a cancer in the social fabric. Their messages are, perhaps necessarily, negative. Their suggested solutions are seemingly superficial: use common sense, untangled red tape, treat people as human beings, and do not forget the organization’s objectives.

The display comprises primarily political cartoons and posters. Over a period of many decades political cartoons were disseminated in Krokodil (crocodile), a satirical magazine published in the former Soviet Union, as well as in other similar magazines. During the decades of the 1960s, 1970s and early in the 1980s a group of artists in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) known as the “Fighting Pencil,” produced anti-bureaucratic posters aimed to “open the boils on the body of the Soviet society.”

With the support of local officials, the anti-bureaucratic material was widely available throughout the Soviet Union and served to contend that bureaucracy was an obstacle to the success of Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (the political and economic system), and warned that political and bureaucratic changes must go hand-in-hand.

Collection Items

Has been kicked like a soccer ball
Poet: Smirnovski, S. “The Fighting Pencil” group, 1974

A client with a request came to the deputy head,
He was kicked in a moment somewhere to the left.
The client appeared in the sight of the aide,
And a kick to the right was immediately…

Once upon a time there lived an old man and his wife…
Poet: Smirnovski, S. “The Fighting Pencil” group, 1974

1. There once lived an elderly couple
Who peacefully ate their porridge with milk.
When the husband felt lousy sometimes at home,
Hitting his spouse was his way to relax.
2. With a…

Look at the big picture
Poet: Smirnovski, S. “The Fighting Pencil” group, 1969

The picture reads: “Our building after the renovation.”
Superintendent has a heart of stone
He wants to be just left alone.

Try to hit the target!
Cover of Krokodil [Crocodile] satirical magazine, No. 17, 1965

Inscriptions on the papers: “Complaint,” “Application,”
“Request,” and “Appeal.”

To access “the holy body” of even minor public servants has been traditionally one of the…

Now nobody can blame me that I treat visitors inconsiderately
Krokodil [Crocodile] satirical magazine, 1956
Signs: “Sit down please;” “How do you do;” “Please smoke;”
“Good bye;” “All the best to the family;”
“Please come again tomorrow.”

Horror of the bureaucrat
Cover of Krokodil [Crocodile] satirical magazine, No. 18, 1936

—It is terrible to think that every one of them
is not just a visitor but also a voter.

...But the booze was in the mouth...
The vain crow, a forest ranger, has been outwitted by the fox. This time he gives the crow a bottle of vodka and makes off with the trees that she is supposed to be guarding. The cartoon provides a harsh commentary on unprincipled behavior in many…

The house with ghosts
"Poet: Shumilin, V. “The Fighting Pencil” group, 1972
He is just a genius for a shady business deal:
Fake names on the payroll he shows as real.
But for his unreal and illusory luck
In the jail for real he can be long stuck.

The poster refers…

"Let's make him a front-rank worker."
"Poet: Lezunov, B. “The Fighting Pencil” group, 1972

They give everything to the hero
But ignore the working team:
Here they set records
Only for show!

In the former Soviet Union the highest form of non-monetary appraisal was the honorary…
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