The National Art Museum turns 85. Posters and photographs

The National Art Museum turns 85. Posters and photographs

The National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus Main building

On January 24, 2024 at 17.00 the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus (Lenin St., 20) will see the grand opening of the exhibition “The National Art Museum turns 85. Posters and photographs”, dedicated to the anniversary year of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus.

The history of the creation of the museum dates back to January 24, 1939, when the Council of People's Commissars of the BSSR issued the resolution “On the organisation of an art gallery in Minsk”.

The exhibition includes more than 30 posters and 35 photographs from the archives of the museum and the Belarusian State Archive of Film, Photo and Sound Documents, reflecting the most significant pages of museum history from 1939 to 2023. For the first time, the posters will be on display as exhibits.

Posters for exhibitions, lectures, concerts, and other events are the authentic documents of museum history. The exhibition activities of the State Art Gallery of the BSSR (1939–1957), then the State Art Museum of the BSSR (1957–1993), and the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus (since 1993) are rich and varied. The museum’s poster collection consists of more than 2000 items. Unfortunately, the posters of the first exhibitions that took place in the Gallery in the pre-war period have not been preserved (the exhibitions “Art of the Belarusian SSR” for the Decade of Belarusian Art in Moscow (1940), “Lenin and Stalin – Organizers of the BSSR” (1940), Artistic Crafts of the Peoples of the USSR from the State Historical and Art Museum-Reserve of Zagorsk (1941). Starting from the post-war period, the exhibition presents the most vivid items that illustrate the wide geography of the museum’s exhibition activities (from Australia and Ethiopia to the USA and Japan), showcasing the cooperation with leading museums of the world (the State Hermitage, the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery Prague, the Dresden Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, etc.) as well as demonstrating a variety of techniques (watercolour, lithography, etching, silk-screen printing, offset printing). Each of them is also a reflection of the time it was created in.

The earliest posters on view at the exhibition – from 1945 and 1946 – contain a complete list of artists participating in the exhibition, which is uncommon for posters designed later. In 1957, the Grodna offset printing factory produced a poster for the Belarusian State Art Museum of the BSSR in a circulation of 500 copies. The poster contained information about the museum’s collections, opening hours and address; the Ministry of Culture of the BSSR was noted as well. For the first time, the poster contains a prototype of the museum’s logo – the facade of the museum building, which, naturally, emphasises an important event – the museum's move to its own building, designed by the architect Mikhail Baklanau. The next promotional poster for the museum appears only in 1989; it’s entirely occupied by a work of Jan Chrucki, “Portrait of an Unknown Woman with Flowers and Fruits”, and has a “State Art Museum of the BSSR” inscription in the upper right corner – interestingly, in four languages (Belarusian, Russian, English and French).

Promotional posters for art exhibitions were created by professional graphic artists by special commission. Sometimes they used a single template for interchangeable texts, as well as images of artworks, photographs of artists, yet sometimes it was an original work by the author. Posters were dispayed on advertisings colums in the city and tried to attract their viewers, often becoming the catalyst factor that brought the public to the museum. The exhibition features posters by graphic artists: P. Semchanka, A. Betanava, A. Los, S. Sarkisau, V. Lyadsky, V. Smolyak and U. Vasyuk. The works are often unsigned. Posters for the exhibitions “The art of ancient Belarusian cities of the 9th –14th century” and “Belarusian icon painting of the 17th–18th century” (1990), created by Uladzimir Vasyuk, for the first time feature the museum logo, which is a quickly recognisable visual code among the abundance of other information in the urban space. Since 2005, the museum has an official logo, which has become a permanent attribute of its posters, beginning the formation of the museum’s unique visual corporate style. It can be said that posters no longer serve a purely informational function; their purpose has expanded significantly. They now become elements of the museum’s image, the instigators of museum communication, forming the vision of the museum.

Posters for exhibitions and other museum events from the last ten years are presented at the exhibition in digital format.

A collection of museum photographs was also gradually formed. The exhibition presents unique footage from the 1939 opening of the Gallery featuring the first director, Mikalai Mikhalap (1939–1941). In 2020, the museum archive received copies of photographs taken in August 1941 by the personal photographer of Adolf Hitler and his closest circle, Walter Frentz, which depict the Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler’s visit to the State Art Gallery in Minsk. These photographs of the pre-war Gallery’s exposition are the only surviving ones that have been found so far. More than a hundred photographs were transferred to the museum from the Belarusian State Archive of Film, Photo and Sound Documents in Dziarzhynsk.

Since the 1950s, the museum employs professional photographers, whose duties include photographing museum events and museum objects. The exhibition presents photographs reflecting the images of the time, the interiors of exhibition halls, images of visitors, as well as important events in the history of the museum. 

The exhibition will run until March 24, 2024.

Curators: Dziana Shantar (section “Museum Posters”), head of the Department of Scientific and Educational Work; Nadzeya Usava (section “Photographs”), leading researcher at the Department of Scientific and Educational Work.