The Public Interest

Does Political Art Have a Future?

Mark T. Lilla

Summer 1982

ON lower Fifth Avenue in Manhattan there are two odd bookshops which seem very out of place, even in New York. The first (China Books) is a propaganda outlet for the People’s Republic of China; the other (Four Seasons) is one for the Soviet Union and East Bloc. What makes these stores peculiar is not the propaganda they freely distribute-New Yorkers are used to that by now-but the stunning political posters they stock. The contrast between the images employed in the posters could not be more striking. On entering the Chinese shop you find yourself surrounded by a hundred grinning, cherubic Maos-Mao in the fields watching the harvest, Mao in the mill watching fabrics weaved, Mao on the factory floor telling jokes. The slogans on the posters translate awkwardly into English, robbing them of whatever inspirational value they may have in the original: “Be prepared at all times and be sure to destroy the enemy intruders!”;

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