The Visual Front: Spanish Civil War Posters, from the Southworth Collection at the University of California San Diego
February 4–March 28, 1998
The Spanish Civil War (1936-39) has been seen as a symbol of the global struggles during the 1930s and as a rehearsal for the apocalyptic scenes of World War II. The beginning of the Spanish Civil War caused a worldwide reaction of anti-fascist opinion, and for many saving the Spanish Republic from the fascist-inspired forces became the cause of the century. Thousands of volunteers from across Europe and America, including figures as disparate as Marshal Tito, W.H. Auden and Ernest Hemingway, were compelled to go to Spain where many would die in the conviction that this was not a local war but one stage in the battle for a better society. Propaganda posters are among the most poignant documents that remain from the Spanish Civil War. An essential part of the visual landscape in which individuals living the tragedy of the war went about their daily business of survival, they were a constant reminder that a new reality had arrived. The Visual Front: Spanish Civil War Posters, from the Southworth Collection at the University of California San Diego offers a reminder of this devastating and ideologically galvanizing conflict.
The exhibition curator, Alexander Vergara, visiting assistant professor of art history at Columbia University, has selected more than forty posters that graphically denounce the fascist-inspired military revolt and exhort the populace to support the Republic and to unite for the cause. The artists represented in the exhibition, while acknowledging the influence of the Russian political illustrators Deni and Moor, the famed French poster artists Cassandre, Colin, and Carlu, and photomontage artists such as John Heartfield, use a variety of heroic styles of illustration. The wide range of powerful designs with simple lettering, printed in highly contrasting red, orange, blue, green, and black, convey a passionate, optimistic message which, though necessary to maintain the active support of the populace, must surely have been countered by the crushing reality of the war.
Also on view are a selection of books, newspapers, and journals which contextualize the posters and illustrate how integral the posters were to the overall propaganda campaign during the war. The posters and supplementary materials are on loan from the Southworth Collection at the University of California, San Diego. This collection was initiated by Herbert Rutledge Southworth, an American journalist closely associated with the Republican government in Spain, who began collecting systematically during the war. Much of the material in the Southworth Collection is not available elsewhere in the U.S. and has therefore become a prime resource for students and scholars of the Spanish Civil War.
At the Wallach Art Gallery, supplemental programming will include an exhibition of drawings made by Spanish children living in refugee camps during the war, from the Avery Architectural and Fine Art Library at Columbia; film screenings; and public tours. The exhibition's curator will give a free gallery talk on February 19 at 6 p.m.