Display Design

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Display Design


(oformitel’skoe iskusstvo), a field of the decorative arts that includes the temporary festive decoration of streets, public squares, and industrial sites; window dressing; and the design of decorations and displays for demonstrations, public holidays, athletic events, parades, and various types of exhibitions. Display design makes use of the expressive resources of architecture, sculpture, painting, graphics, theater, film-making, and lighting. It thereby provides the most large-scale examples of a synthesis of the arts. Display design interacts with the existing architecture but, in contrast to it, usually has agitational content. In addition, display design is similar to stage design. However, in traditional theater the set and other visual elements are perceived from a single external point of view, that is, the audience hall, whereas in display design the spectator is usually inside a multidimensional space, such as an exhibition, or becomes himself a participant in the artistic resolution of the action, as in a demonstration.

If monumental art reflects the spirit of an epoch in generalized images that are to some extent timeless and is created from such “everlasting” materials as stone, metal, and smalt, then display design is a transient, often polemical reaction to the concerns of the day. Concise poster images rendered in light materials and mobile constructions produce vivid spatial and color effects. As a rule, displays are not designed for reproduction.

The origins of display design lie in the religious rituals of antiquity—celebrations of the sun and the coming of spring— and in ancient Greek processions and Roman triumphal marches. Carnivals and religious processions of the Middle Ages often became the occasion for vivid demonstrations of popular artistic culture.

Whereas the aesthetic unity of medieval displays occurred more or less spontaneously, during the Renaissance there was an increase in the organizing role of the designer, usually a painter or architect, who subordinated a theatrical event to an overall artistic plan. (Such masters as Leonardo da Vinci, I. Jones, and P. P. Rubens designed displays.) From the 15th through the 18th century, displays, as they developed within the framework of the Renaissance, mannerist, and baroque styles, were important components of court spectacles and triumphal processions. (Such court festivities began in Russia under Peter I.) Making extensive use of painting, sculpture, fireworks, and various mechanical devices, designers often strove to create life-affirming images, thoroughly secular in spirit, with the aid of allegories and emblems.

In the ceremonies of the Great French Revolution (designed by J. L. David and others) and the festivals of the Paris Commune of 1871, display design emerged as an instrument of graphic political propaganda directed at the broad masses.

In the 20th century technology in display design has been used to the greatest extent, with the ever increasing application of audiovisual methods such as movies and the use of photographs, photomontages, and light-and-motion constructions. Particular attention has been devoted to the improvement of museum displays and similar exhibitions. Designers guide the spectator’s perception, emphasizing the visually and conceptually most important features in an exhibit. The official display design of capitalist countries, saturated with the clichés of “mass culture,” is most often used for commercial advertising. Progressive parties and social organizations, on the other hand, use the art in the struggle for peace, social progress, and democracy.

Soviet display design began in the first days of the Great October Socialist Revolution. It sought new forms to express the spirit of heroic mass uprising and to reveal the worldwide historical meaning of ongoing events in a way that everyone could understand. Display design united artists and craftsmen from all the conflicting schools that existed in prerevolutionary Russia, making them aware of their role in the formation of a nascent socialist culture. The primary examples of design were the holiday decoration of city blocks and parade routes and the decoration of trains, streetcars, and steamboats for mass propaganda. Display design was ideologically linked with the Lenin plan of monument propaganda. Manifestations included large decorative structures marked by the dynamics of exposed rhythm of structural elements (N. I. Al’tman and L. V. Rudnev); more sedate architectural-spatial and decorative solutions for squares, main roads, and individual buildings (the Vesnin brothers and M. V. Dobuzhinskii); and painted panels illustrating specific themes (S. V. Gerasimov, P. V. Kuznetsov, B. M. Kustodiev, and K. S. Petrov-Vodkin).

The growth of the economic power and international prestige of the USSR has led to an emphasis on the design of exhibitions displaying the achievements of the socialist order (L. M. Lisitskii, N. P. Prusakov, N. M. Suetin, and R. R. Kliks). Artists, including M. F. Ladur, la. D. Romas, and V. A. Stenberg, have been regularly called upon to design decorations for parades and demonstrations. Soviet display designers, making extensive use of the achievements of technology and all the possibilities and resources of each of the arts, strive to improve the aesthetic environment of cities and villages, to develop new types of museum displays and other exhibitions, to find new forms of visual propaganda, and to make new, Soviet rituals a part of life.


Khudozhnik-oformitel’ (collection of articles). Leningrad, 1962.
Iskusstvo sovremennoi ekspozitsii: Vystavki, muzei. Moscow (1965).
Agitatsionno-massovoe iskusstvo pervykh let Oktiabr’skoi revoliutsii: Katalog vystavki. (Moscow, 1967.)
Rozhdestvenskii, K. Ansambl’ i ekspozitsiia. (Leningrad, 1970.)
Agitatsionno-massovoe iskusstvo pervykh let Oktiabria: Materialy i is-sledovaniia. Moscow, 1971.
Nemiro, O. V gorod prishel prazdnik: Iz istorii khudozhestvennogo oform-leniia sovetskikh massovykh prazdnestv. Leningrad, 1973.
Khudozhnik i gorod (collection). Mosocow, 1973.
Les Fêtes de la Renaissance, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1956–60.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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