BOSTON – Mid-Century Modern posters from 1945 through 1965 take center stage through Nov. 21 at International Poster Gallery in Boston. The show and sale of original vintage posters, titled “Global Persuasion: Original Mid-Century Modern Posters,” encompasses a broad spectrum of motifs and styles that responded to the technological and cultural developments of the post-World War II world. Included in the exhibition are works by such pioneers of Mid-Century design as Armin Hofmann, Herbert Leupin, Erik Nitsche and David Klein.
The end of WWII ushered in a long era of peace and prosperity throughout much of the world despite the rising tensions of the Cold War. Populations exploded across the globe, especially in the U.S., Europe and Australia, and increasingly global corporations sought to serve these new consumers. Post-war technology would only accentuate these developments; the widespread arrival of television and the turboprop and then the commercial jetliner would make the world a smaller and more interconnected place.
These changes had a profound impact on society, modern culture and advertising methods. Indeed, the prosperous era created a veritable “poster boom” that had two new and distinct styles, one consumer and one corporate. The first was brightly colored and whimsical, the second was rational and orderly, both perfectly adapted to the needs of the times, and both distinct from the Machine Age, Art Deco style that preceded them.
The first style, dubbed the Baby Boom, or Fifties Style, became the dominant look of consumer advertising. Artists like Herbert Leupin and Donald Brun in Switzerland, Paul Rand in the US and Raymond Savignac in France created a playful style that appealed to families. Included in Global Persuasion is Herbert Leupin’s colorful 1952 poster for Pelikan, a Swiss manufacturer of fountain pens. The design features the company’s pelican mascot, stylized as a cartoon character in bold, geometric shapes along with photorealistic depictions of Pelikan products. Typical of his work, it reveals a rich, personal universe of characters, symbols and anthropomorphized animals to attract and delight the child in everyone. Leupin’s imagination was as fertile as his celebrated poster predecessor, Leonetto Cappiello, creating everything from stallions that smoke cigars, parrots that hawk grapefruit soda, monkeys, seals and clowns that promote the circus, to friendly trees that greet skiers. With over 80 Swiss Poster of the Year awards, Leupin inspired advertising directors around the world.
Consumer services, like consumer products, quickly became fodder for the new advertising style as well. An explosion of new campaigns for popular destinations like Disneyland, New York, Las Vegas and Paris created powerful consumer brands for the dominant airlines. The work of David Klein for TWA and Stan Galli for United was exceptional. Included in the exhibition is Klein’s magical nighttime view of the Hollywood Bowl, a destination that Klein knew well from his time living in Los Angeles. The poster was so successful that the airline printed it twice, first in the late 1950s with a prop plane, then in the early 1960s with a jet, as seen in the exhibition.
The second style of the period, the International Typographic, or Swiss Style, was also perfectly suited to the increasingly connected world. Corporations sought international identification and global events such as the Olympics called for universal, pictogram or non-word based solutions. Highly structured, systematic designs were needed to achieve safety, order and clarity on everything from highways and airports to product instructions and catalogs.
Influenced by the Bauhaus and Tshichhold’s New Typography, this style developed in Switzerland in the late Forties and Fifties. It employed basic typographic elements with strict graphic rules and often replaced illustration with stark, “modern” photography. The concert posters of Josef Muller-Brockman seen in the exhibit represent the classic apotheosis of this style – cool, elegant and systematically abstract. Another fine example is Erik Nitsche’s “Atoms for Peace” poster for General Dynamics. In 1955, Nitsche became Art Director for the company, a leading multi-division technology firm most famous for building the first nuclear submarine. There, Nitsche created several spectacular series of posters promoting the conglomerate’s various disciplines. “Atoms for Peace” was created shortly after his appointment and was produced for the first International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, which took place in Geneva. The conference examined the peaceful applications of atomic technology in a world still shaken by the advent of nuclear weaponry. Nitsche’s poster is notable for having been designed by a corporate participant in the exhibition, and its design reflects the unifying, cross-cultural nature of the event.
Like the Baby Boom Style, the use of the International Typographic Style spread rapidly throughout the world, and is still the leading design language of the modern world.
“Mid-Century posters, which are exploding in popularity right now, represent a monumental shake-up in the field of graphic design,” comments International Poster Gallery owner Jim Lapides. “These artists adapted to the evolving mentality of post-war consumers with unprecedented style and success and are now securing their status as Mid-Century icons.”
The International Poster Gallery is located at 205 Newbury Street in Boston, and is open daily from 10am – 6pm and Sunday from noon – 6pm. For additional information, call 617-375-0076.