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Pioneers of Modernism

Pioneers of Modernism

Loeffler, Die Flache Book II







Moscoso, The Chambers Brothers

International Poster Gallery is pleased to announce "Pioneers of Modernism: Poster Masters of the 20th Century," a revealing look at how pioneering artists changed the rules of poster making throughout the century. The exhibition of 35 groundbreaking poster designs is now on view and runs through June 2010. 

The exhibition is arranged chronologically, with highlights selected from four eras: the early Modernist period from the turn of the century to the early 1920s;  the Art Deco style from the mid-1920s to WWII; the Mid-Century period of the 1950s and 1960s; and the Postmodern period from the late 1960s to the 1990s.

The show begins with some of the major designers who challenged the floral and organic Art Nouveau style of the 19th century.  One highlight is Otto Morach's Swiss Artist Exhibition of 1918, which was the first truly designed typographic poster made in Switzerland.  Utterly simple and elegant, its sensuous letterforms are reminiscent of the pioneering modernism of the Vienna Secession, while its restricted palette and chalky textures resonate with depth and warmth.  Morach was the prototypical Swiss designer - trained in mathematics, he turned to painting and studied in Paris, Switzerland and Germany.  He only designed a handful of posters, but each one is imbued with a modernist spirit that still inspires.  All of the elements in Morach's work would become hallmarks of Swiss graphic design.

The show is replete with other fine examples of early Modernism.  It includes an excellent example of Die Flache, a rare decorative arts portfolio consisting of 32 plates by the leading artists of the Vienna Secession.  Die Flache's bold geometry and abstraction reveal a clear break with Art Nouveau.

The Art Deco style is represented by fine examples from all over Europe.  One of the best is Frank Newbould's Air Mail.  Streamlined and geometric, pared down to its essentials, it expresses the speed, power and scale of modern technology.  Newbould was a leading posterist in Britain in the 1920s-1930s, with Edward McKnight Kauffer and Tom Purvis.

France is represented by A.M. Cassandre's Heemaf, as well as  Paul Colin's Lisa Duncan.  Munetsugu Satomi, who worked with Cassandre in Paris, is represented by his streamlined poster for the Japanese Railways.  Hungary's Aladar Richter's work for Modiano reveals the wide influence of Art Deco style.  The avant garde style of  Fascist Italy is represented by Federico Seneca's Pastina GlutinataHerbert Matter's early photomontage Swiss travel poster All Roads Leads to Switzerland is a final selection for this part of the show.

The Mid-Century period saw the rapid rise of the so-called "Swiss Style," which was based on clarity, order, readable type and photographic images.  This part of the exhibition features works by leading Swiss artists such as Armin Hofmann, Muller-Brockmann, and Herbert Leupin.
 
Swiss artist Max Huber moved to Milan, Italy after World War II, and became a pivotal figure in the remarkable renaissance of Italian post-war graphic design.  Huber brought the lessons of Swiss design to leading firms like Olivetti, Pirelli and La Rinascente, where he became the chief graphic designer.  His rare poster for Borsalino, Italy's premier hat producer, is playful and serendipitous as well as enigmatic.  

Reactions to the rigid canon of the Swiss Style began in the 1960s, gaining momentum by the 1980s.  The psychedelic posters of the late 1960s appropriately turned all the rules of Swiss design and the Modernist tradition upside down.  This new poster craze drew heavily on the floral excesses of Art Nouveau, the pulsating afterimages of Op-Art, and the bizarre juxtapositions of Surrealism to create an intense, erotic and other-worldly visual experience.

Victor Moscoso was perhaps the most cerebral artist of the period, having studied color theory under Joseph Albers at Yale.  His beautiful "Neon Rose" series of 27 posters for the Matrix Club, especially his beautiful Chambers Brothers poster, marks him as one of the first Postmodernists.  This poster was visual proof of his design philosophy:  "I had been told that lettering should always be legible, so I turned that around to say:  Lettering should be as illegible as possible.  Another rule was that a poster should transmit its message quickly and simply.  So, I said: A poster should hang up as long as possible. Another one is: Do not use vibrating colors; they're irritating to the eyes.  So I said: Use vibrating colors as much as possible."