Mid-Century Modern Posters
October 4 through November 21, 2012
"Global Persuasion: Original Mid-Century Modern Posters," a selection of posters spanning 1945-1965, celebrates the broad spectrum of motifs and styles that arose in response to the technological and cultural developments following the end of World War II.
Including 35 examples of significant Mid-Century Modern design, the show presents work by pioneers such as Herbert Leupin, Erik Nitsche, Armin Hofmann, and David Klein, as well as others both well and less known.
Browse all mid-century modern posters.
The Post-War World
Despite the looming tensions of the Cold War, a sense of peace and prosperity settled throughout much of the world at the end of World War II. Populations rose dramatically, and technological advances such as the arrival of television and the commercial jetliner helped make the world seem like a much smaller place.
Advertising methods shifted to adapt to the times. A veritable "poster boom" occurred in the early 1950s, driving forward two distinct styles, one consumer and one corporate. The first, which we have labeled the '50s Style, was brightly colored and whimsical, while the second, called the International Typographic Style, was more rational and orderly.
The Rise of the Global Consumer
Posters done in the '50s Style used vivid colors and playful motifs to appeal to a broad audience, and the 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 exemplify the lighthearted qualities of this style.
Featured in Global Persuasion is Leupin's 1952 poster for Pelikan, a Swiss manufacturer of fountain pens. The company's pelican mascot becomes a stylized, geometric cartoon holding photorealistic depictions of Pelikan products. Typical of a Leupin design, Pelikan reveals a rich, personal universe of characters, symbols, and animals to attract and delight the child in everyone.
The '50s Style was applied to consumer services as well as products. Airline campaigns sought to attract travelers to destinations like Disneyland, New York, Las Vegas, and Paris. The work of David Klein for TWA and Stan Galli for United epitomize these campaigns. Klein's magical nighttime view of the Hollywood Bowl was particularly successful. A colorful and brilliant scene shows tall palms and dynamic spot lights rising into the sky toward twinkling stars and a TWA jet. The airline printed the poster twice, first in the late 1950s with a prop plane, and again in the early 1960's with a jet, as seen in the exhibition.
The Rise of the Global Corporation
The International Typographic Style, or Swiss Style, was also perfectly suited to the increasingly globally connected world. Highly structured, systematic designs granted order and clarity to everything from highways and airports to product instruction manuals.
Influenced by the Bauhaus and Tshichhold's New Typography, this style developed in Switzerland in the late '50s and '60s. It employed basic typographic elements with strict graphic rules and often replaced illustration with stark, "modern" photography. The concert posters of Josef Muller-Brockmann represent the classical 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 a series of spectacular posters for the first International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy.
Mid-Century Modern Today
The Mid-Century poster genre represented a monumental shake-up in the field of graphic design and has seen a meteoric rise in popularity in recent years. Artists adapted to the evolving mentality of post-war consumers with unprecedented style, and are now securing their status as Mid-Century icons. Like the 50's Style, the use of International Typographic Style spread rapidly, and is still the leading design language of the modern world.