210311: Museum für Völkerkunde The Culture of the Cultural Revolution – Personality Cult and political design in Mao's China

Museum für Völkerkunde The Culture of the Cultural Revolution – Personality Cult and political design in Mao's China red, shiny, gleaming, illustrious, significant, comprehensive “Serve the people” is written in Mao’s handwriting on the lid of a teapot. On its side another Mao quote, and beneath it the depiction of an unusual landscape: a field “populated” by a power plant, power poles, factories and a tractor. Since 2005, this teapot is in the possession of the Völkerkundemuseum, and, together with numerous everyday objects (plaques, caricatures, decorated utilities) it is presented in the exhibition “The Culture of the Cultural Revolution – Personality Cult and Political Design in Mao’s China”. The “most banal things of everyday life”, dating from the time of the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976), were collected by the journalist and expert on China, Helmut Opletal, who received most of the objects as gifts from his Chinese friends. In the meantime, the Mao tokens have become most sought after collector’s items and were relaunched to mark the occasion of Mao’s 100th birthday (1893 – 1976), later they were replicated and even fakes were sold to tourists. This era of Chinese history, which noone - not nationally or internationally, has come to terms with, is presented in the form of everyday objects – consciously selected from a European viewpoint / whereby the viewpoint was consciously selected as a European one: “terror” is not excluded among the topics “cult” and “everyday life”, and in the fourth room the “Mao is dead, long live Mao”- movement of 1968 in Europe is displayed as well as the “more or less” artistic approach since the 80s. The term “political design” was cleverly chosen, as it differentiates from the derogative term “kitsch”. Too symbolic are the depictions, and the art was too much of a “wheel in the mechanism of the revolution” (quote from an article by Elisabeth Slavkoff, who interpreted Mao, who in turn cites Lenin) and part of the propaganda machinery that found its way remarkably deep into everyday life. Practically every object of everyday life were part of the propaganda machinery – ranging from the above mentioned teapot to packaging, pots and radios. As of 1942, foreign influences were permitted - based on empirical China’s traditional elements (such as the unity of image and writing), on Buddhism, and on the people’s culture: “Let the past serve the present, let us utilize foreign things for China”. Oil paintings, along the lines of Soviet Realism, were transformed into Chinese folk art. As of 1966, this is referred to as “Revolutionary Realism” and “Revolutionary Romanticism”. The depictions were mainly meant to be red, shiny, gleaming, illustrious, significant, and comprehensive. It is unfortunate that the exhibition completely neglected an important part of the propaganda: sound. No revolutionary hymn and no fiery speech disturb the rather bizarre objects. By Maria-Gabriela Martinkowic Museum für Völkerkunde 1010 Vienna, Neue Burg Tel: +43 1 525 24 404 Fax: + 43 1 525 24 371 Email: info@ethno-museum.ac.at http://www.ethno-museum.ac.at Opening hours: daily except Tuesdays from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Weltmuseum Wien
1010 Wien, Neue Burg
Tel: +43 1 534 30 – 5052
Email: info@weltmuseumwien.at
Öffnungszeiten: täglich außer Dienstag 10-18 Uhr

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