Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Seven More Stunning Modernist Posters

by Stephen J. Gertz

More from Swann Galleries' Modernist Posters sale, held yesterday.

James Harley Minter designed this poster, Bal Pa'Pillon, in 1931 for The Kokoon Club of Cleveland, Ohio, founded in 1911 by Carl Moellman and William Sommer, young American artists inspired by the Dadaist movement and similar avant-garde organizations in Europe, and modeled after New York's Kit Kat Club. The club held annual costume balls, which began in 1913 and continued through 1938.

"This decadent, cubist-influenced image is an electric, microcosmic view of Cleveland's avant-garde artistic community. Presaging the psychedelic posters of the 1960s and reflecting many of the concurrent graphic art trends in Europe, this poster, and the entire series for the club's yearly balls, are bright, bold, daring and stand out as exciting and innovative examples of American design. Each poster also served as an invitation to the event, with the invitee's name written in across the bottom" (Nicholas D. Lowry). I hope Margaret Brennan had as much fun at this soirée as I did viewing its poster.

I am pleased to report that the head-snapping whiplash I experienced after learning that Cleveland possessed an avant-garde artistic community has been successfully treated via review of gangbuster Elliot Ness's checkered career as Cleveland's Public Safety Director followed by an unsuccessful run for mayor of Cleveland in 1938. I have no snobbish animus toward Cleveland; I simply had no idea that the city possessed a hip culture. 

For more about The Kokoon Club of Cleveland, including a survey of other gorgeous posters for its costume balls go here.

For Viaggiate Di Notte (1930), designed by famed graphic artist Adolphe Mouron Cassandre (1901-1968) for Wagons Lits (a railroad sleeping car company),  the artist chose an "unquestionably persuasive" (Mouron p. 69) symbolic and poetic approach to advertising.

"The breathtakingly simple device of a red light glowing in the foggy darkness of a railroad siding is perfectly consistent with our poetically charged experience of looking out the window of a speeding night express" (op cit, Mouron).

"It is an elegant and inviting approach, evoking travel by night. The poster exists with different text variants, but this one is the least cluttered. This is also the rare Italian version. We could locate only one other copy in the collection of the Suntory Museum in Japan" (Lowry).

Cassandre, again. Turmac / La Cigarette is one of his earliest posters, designed in 1925. "It predates the time when his work began to reflect his radical and ingenious design theories. He employs a sensuous approach which doesn't appear again in his work until 1937, when a similar smoldering cigarette is featured in his poster for Sensation Cigarettes. Nevertheless, it also foreshadows some of his subsequent graphic finesse: within the stylized smoke and the outside border, he plays with the interchange between shades of blue, white and black in a manner that presages his typographic work in later posters such as Pivolo, Nord Express and Étoile du Nord. The actual typography on this poster is an exceptional mix of Art Deco and the Arabesque. We have not found another copy at auction for the past 30 years" (Lowry). 

Jac Leonard (1904-1980), a Canadian artist, created Beware The Walls Have Ears c. 1940, It's one in a series of posters printed by Canada's Wartime Information Board, similar in aim and approach to those published by the American War Office in its Careless Talk Kills series issued during World War II.

A swastika-eyed secret villain, photo-montage, bold, bright typography and powerful imagery - this progressive design has it all and makes its point as firmly as a hammer to the noggin.

Edgar Scauflaire (1893-1960) was a Belgian artist who studied at the Académie des Beaux Arts in Liége, where he was born. Many of his paintings clearly reflect the influence of Picasso and Braque. He also designed murals and tapestries. This Art Deco-inspired, aquatic allegory is one of at least two posters used to promote the International Exposition de L'Eau of 1939.

After studying art at the Munich Academy under Julius Diez and Angelo Jank, Hermann Keimel (1889-1948) went on to become a teacher at the same institution. He was a member of the artistic group "The Twelve," and also of the new Munich Association of Poster Artists. He designed numerous commercial posters, generally employing a crisp Art Deco style. Muenchner / Plakat Kunst (1931) is his masterpiece and remains an icon of poster self-promotion: to promote an exhibition of Munich poster art Keimel constructed this cubist face out of colored sheets of printing paper.

Manilo Parrini (1901-1968) created this striking aeronautical-themed poster for the 3d International Aircraft Exhibition held in conjunction with the Milan Trade Fair of 1939.

He worked during Mussolini's regime in Italy, which is to say in a monumental, over the top, grandiose glory of Rome epic style, light on subtlety; the anvil school of messaging. Here, in a Fascist salute to Il Duce, he incorporates a trio of fasces on the tail fin of the plane in the foreground, while the three planes in the distance are streaming the colors of the Italian flag behind them.

In case anyone misses the symbolism of fasces on the tail, it's a visual representation of baciarmi il  Fascista culo,  if not an official, explicit political slogan, a casually implicit one.

Réne Magritte designed posters and sheet music? Stop by Booktryst tomorrow for the story.

Images courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries, with our thanks.

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