While US armed forces continue to search Iraq for those elusive weapons of mass destruction, the Wolfsonian is examining the culture of war propaganda through its own stash of WMD’s. Weapons of mass dissemination, that is—which are arguably as powerful a force of destruction. Indeed, this exhibition of objects from the first half of the 20th century reveals the methods through which entire populations were rallied to the cause, ranging from posters and housewares to children’s books and games (below, “With friends like these, who needs enemies!”, 1944, designer and printer unknown, The Netherlands). Take the US poster “Keep Jap terror from your home!” of 1941, in which a knife-wielding Japanese soldier, presumably one of the pilots responsible for the Pearl Harbor bombing, lingers near a child’s nursery. In keeping with this theme is the truly offensive dime-store game, a manually operated progenitor of today’s video games, called “Kill the Jap”. Easier to stomach are posters for the World War I effort, such as the US Red Cross’s “Hold up your end!”(1918), which shows a nurse encouraging the viewer to pitch-in by picking up the other end of the stretcher she is attempting to lift. An excellent survey of 20th-century efforts to convince through images, this show is co-curated by Marianne Lamonaca, assistant director of exhibitions and curatorial affairs at the Wolfsonian and Sarah Schleuning, an assistant curator.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Weapons of mass dissemination: the propaganda of war'