I will be the first to admit that, at first glance, the idea of building an art exhibition around postage stamps doesn’t sound very promising. Stamps are very small, for one thing, so finding little frames to go around them can be a challenge. They are also, well, stamps—and if you collected them as a kid, you know that a little collecting goes a long way. Fill a page or two of an album and you’re good for life.
After seeing the new exhibit at The Museum of Russian Art, Postage Stamps: Messengers of the Soviet Future , however, I must revise my thinking on stamps. Especially Soviet stamps.
The MORA’s exhibit features more than 300 stamps on loan from a private collector, from the period of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 through the development of the Soviet Union up until about 1950. What is fascinating about the stamps is how they depict the idealism and energy that went into trying to create a viable socialist republic. Much of it is government propaganda, yes, but the Soviet government had the best artists and engravers at its disposal, and a distinct sense of shared destiny comes through in the images—of fantastic buildings and monuments yet to be built, of spectacular human achievements to be celebrated, of bold explorations on the horizon, and various other endeavors that Soviet citizens were encouraged to be proud of as part of an emerging socialist utopia.
The stamps are displayed in a way that illustrates the historical context out of which they came, and many of the stamps themselves are true works of art. The engraving skills and attention to detail are so superb that one can’t help but feel some admiration for the scale of the Soviet project and the level of thought and energy that went into it.
If you saw this exhibit six months ago, it might not have quite the same impact. But seeing it
now, as our own country is veering toward a strange, untested form of democratic social engineering, with a charismatic president who inspires many people to drop their natural cynicism and join him in rebuilding the country—it’s, well, a little eerie.
Check it out—it’s on display at The Museum of Russian Art through September. And by the way, all the bridge construction that made it impossible to get to TMORA last year is finished. Take the Diamond Lake Road exit off of 35W and you’re there.