Friday, September 3, 2010

Victoria And Albert Go To The Olympics

TIMMERS, Margaret.
A Century Of Olympic Posters.
London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 2008.
Covers of Two Editions of The Text
To The Olympic Poster Exhibition.

(All Images Courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum.)

London's Sutton Central Library is the latest venue to host a traveling exhibit from the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) of more than 100 posters charting the history of the Olympic Games. As London prepares for the 2012 Summer Games, this exhibit reminds the city that modern Olympic movement founder, Pierre de Coubertin, stated his goal in reviving the games was to create a "marriage of art and sport." The exhibit shows how numerous artists have attempted to succeed not only in bringing off that marriage, but also in making a happy couple of such strange bedfellows as art and advertising, nationalism and internationalism, culture and commerce, and politics and populism. Add to that a capsule history of one hundred years of graphic art, and there's enough to fill a book. Which the V&A did in a companion volume to the show. A Century of Olympic Posters opened at the Europa Gallery in Sutton's Central Library on September 1 and runs through October 31, 2010.

Herz, Walter.
Poster For 1948 London Olympic Games.
Eight Color Lithograph.

The 1948 London games were the first to follow the Second World War. Much of London was still in ruins, and rationing was still in place. Known as 'the austere games', the Olympics that year were a low key affair compared to the preparations which will precede 2012. Athletes brought their own sandwiches to eat and the British team were instructed to make their own uniforms. As war-torn London looked towards a brighter future, the poster design combined an image of the marble statue of ‘Discobolus’ (classical icon of the discus thrower from Ancient Greece) with a view of the Houses of Parliament. The hands of the famous "Big Ben" are pointing to 4 o'clock, the time at which the opening of the Games was planned. Fittingly the artist, Walter Herz, had escaped the Nazis and settled in Britain.

Lavers, Ralph.
Olympic Torch, 1947.
Aluminium torch holder, steel burner.

A recently acquired Olympic Torch from the 1948 Games is also part of the exhibit. The lighting of the flame by a torchbearer at the opening ceremony marks the start of the Olympic Games. The torches are carried by amateur athletes who each complete a leg bearing the flame on its journey from Olympia in Greece to the Olympic site. This torch is thought to have been used on the Belgium leg of its trip across Europe. The British Olympic Committee chose architect Ralph Lavers, an expert in classical architecture and archaeology, to design a functional torch representing British craftsmanship at its best. The torches had to be lightweight, as each runner carried them for about one kilometre. They weighed just less than a kilogram and were made from aluminium. The fuel was supplied in tablet form and inserted into a steel burner perforated with holes to protect the flame from strong winds. Each torch had to burn for at least fifteen minutes.

Matisse, Auguste.
Poster For The Chamonix
Mont-Blanc Winter Olympics, 1924.

Colour lithograph.

Many of the Official Olympic Posters display traditional iconography, such as the eagle dominating the poster above, from the French Winter Games. But the exhibit also includes some highly UNofficial and subversive posters.

Mexiac, Adolfo.
Protest Poster.
Lithograph, 1968.

Leslie and Alice Schreyer obtained this poster, now on loan to the V&A, from a Mexican student just days before student uprisings were brutally crushed by President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz. The students used social and political grievances to challenge the image projected to the world by their government through the Mexico City Olympic Games. This poster makes the point by turning the links of the Olympic logo into chains, while the short, harsh 'cuts' of the woodcut style create a tortured energy. The 'made in the USA' padlock refers to Diaz Ordaz's political ties to North America.

Other "unofficial" posters celebrate artistic freedom, rather than scoring political points:

Hockney, David.
Poster for the Los Angeles,
Olympic Games, 1984.
Color Offset Lithograph.

In contrast to many fiercely nationalistic posters produced to advertise earlier Olympics, David Hockney's lyrical poster concentrates on the solitary perfection of a swimmer in a pool.

Warhol, Andy.
Artist Series Poster For
Sarajevo Winter Olympics, 1984.
Lithograph Incorporating Silkscreen print.

Another unofficial take on the solitary beauty of the athlete, done in iconic Warhol fashion.

Lancashire, David.
Peace Roo' Official Design Poster No.1
For Sydney Olympic Games, 2000.
Color Offset lithograph.

An Official poster that still remains highly idiosyncratic and offbeat.

Jones, Allen.
Edition Olympia Poster For
Munich Olympic Games, 1972.
Color Offset Lithograph.

This poster for the 1972 Munich Games is quite deliberately non-political, and international in theme. Probably at least in part as an attempt to avoid a repeat of this:

Würbel, Franz .
Poster for Berlin Olympic Games, 1936.
Color Lithograph.

And this:

Holwein, Ludwig.
Poster For Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Winter Games, 1936.

Color Lithograph.

There was a nationwide competition sponsored by the Nazi Propaganda Ministry for posters for the 1936 Summer and Winter Games. In the end, none were deemed "appropriate" to show the spirit desired by the Reich. The Ministry commissioned work from several artists, and in the end chose the "Classical-Realist" work of Holwein and Wurbel. Both posters depict an athlete supposedly offering the "Olympic Salute," but certainly its similarity to the salute favored by Der Fuhrer, Adolph Hitler, is no accident.

Arsentiev, Vladimir.
Poster For Moscow Olympic Games, 1980.
Color Lithograph.

A poster with an exceedingly simple design for an Olympics that was anything but. The Soviet 1980 Games were boycotted by the United States and several other Western nations in protest of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The poster features the emblem of the Moscow Games: a section of a running track rising into an architectural silhouette topped with a five-pointed star.

The poster below is notable NOT for its politics, but for its artistry:

Kamekura, Yusaku.
Official Poster For
Tokyo Olympic Games, 1964.
Color Photogravure.

The Start of the Sprinters’ Dash poster by Yusaku Kamekura for Tokyo 1964, was the first to use the medium of photography. There were four official posters, all containing the Olympic rings superimposed on the rising sun of the Japanese flag. Photoengraved using several colors, they reflected the height of Japanese printing technology and received a number of awards for excellence, including the Milan Prize for poster graphics.

And another of the exhibition's artistic high points:

Wyman, Lance.
Poster For Mexico City Olympics, 1968. Color Lithograph.

The Op Art poster for the 1968 Games in Mexico City effectively captures both the mood and artistic style of the 1960s while incorporating the imagery of pre-Hispanic Mexican cultures, specifically the patterns of the Huichole Indians. A series of identical posters in blue, red, yellow, green, or black, were designed for these Games through the collaboration of three artists: Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, Eduardo Terrazas, and Lance Wyman.

Hjörtzberg, Olle.
The First Official Olympic Poster.
Commissioned For The
Stockholm Olympics, 1912.
Seven Color Lithograph.

This poster for the 1912 Stockholm Games was the first official Olympic poster, and also the first to be censored. In his original poster, artist Olle Hjortzberg depicted an idealized nude male athelete, a reference to the Games of Antiquity. Seen here is the revamped version featuring strategically placed streamers. Even this sanitized version of the poster was still found to be too racy for distribution in several countries.

Systimesä, Ilmari.
Poster For The Cancelled
Helsinki Olympic Games, 1940.
Color Offset Lithograph With Screenprinting.

An exact copy of this poster created for the 1940 Helsinki Games, cancelled due to World War II, was used for the 1952 Games, with only the date changed. It is an effigy of Paavo Nurmi, the greatest Finnish athlete of all time, and winner of nine Olympic Gold Medals. Nurmi's image is based on a staute by sculptor Wamo Aaltonen.

Jaruska, Wilhelm.
Poster For Innsbruck Winter Olympics, 1964.
Offset Print.

This last poster demonstrates the ambiguity that can arise from an attempt to be inclusive. Guided by the principle of not showing one sporting discipline in particular, Wilhelm Jaruska created a neutral poster showing a common feature of winter sports: a skate, or is it an ice crystal, or a snowflake? It has been described on various authoritative Olympic sites as all three. This skate/snowflake/icicle symbolizes all the disciplines found in the Winter Games, whatever it is.

1 comment:

  1. Another excellent Mattoon post! This is a good view of the history, as well as a nice selection of illustrations. I really like the "unofficial" ones and am very glad you included them.


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