diamond geezer

 Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Century of Olympic Posters
Museum of Childhood: 17 May - 7 September

London Olympic posters - 1908, 1948, 2012It being a year divisible by 4, curators at the Victoria and Albert Museum have been busy assembling an appropriately Olympic exhibition. They've gathered together a comprehensive collection of Olympic posters, from Paris 1900 right up to London 2012, and all are now on show at the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. Not a very thrilling concept you might think - there's only so much you can do with five rings and a few sportsmen - but it's actually a fascinating way to view the evolution of global 20th century design. See how the artists of the day tackled the Olympic brand brief, from proud torchbearing patriotism to abstract symbolic ingenuity. And yes, all leading up to that design at the end.

This is a rather larger exhibition than I was expecting, filling at least half of an upper gallery. I'm not quite sure why it's being hosted at the Museum of Childhood - the theme certainly falls well outside their usual pre-adolescent focus. But very young children seemed to be enjoying the exhibition all the same, providing them with a fantastic space in which to run around and chase one another. Most of the genuine visitors appeared to be twenty- or thirty-something male meeja types, here to update their creative portfolio, and absolutely none of them with children.

Mexico 1968The first Olympics are represented here by their programme covers, as it wasn't until Stockholm 1912 that an official poster was published. Early Olympic posters often had a very strong nationalistic theme, with artists depicting proud rippling athletes in front of recognisable landmarks. Berlin 1936 for example, with laurel-crowned victor towering above the Brandenburg Gate, or London 1948 (Big Ben plus discus-hurler plus rings - sorted). In the 1960s, however, things started to change. Tokyo 1964 ditched sport in favour of a big bold rising sun, and Mexico 1968 went all op-art with eye-popping concentric black lines. It's this dazzling Mexican design that still stands out as the most modern anywhere in the collection, and the one that'll probably sell the most postcards in the shop downstairs afterwards.

Munich 1972Munich 1972 was the first Olympics to take poster design seriously, approaching the pick of contemporary artists to create an extensive colourful collection that wouldn't have looked out of place in an Athena shop. This photograph shows a selection, plus in the foreground a genuine London 1948 torch (as used on the run across Belgium, apparently). From the 70s onwards I was impressed by how many of the Olympic logos I remembered. These variations on the simple five-ring design may have had an official lifespan of only a fortnight, but their iconic audacity has nevertheless imprinted upon the global consciousness. (Sorry if that last sentence reads like critical artistic tosh, but most of the labels in the exhibition were like that and I fear I've been infected by pretentious verbosity)

On into the modern day. Soft abstract designs dominate, with cunning logos (like Barcelona 1992 or Sydney 2000) where a handful of brushstrokes represent leaping athletes. Photography has been used only infrequently - Nagano 1998, with a thrush sitting on two ski poles, is a rare exception. And then, yes, all the way up to date with London 2012. The Back The Bid posters, with athletes vaulting over major landmarks, still retain a forceful impact. And then there's Lisa Simpson. We haven't had an official London 2012 poster yet, so the organisers have merely spraypainted a large angular blue logo straight onto the wall. According to the art critique label alongside "The London 2012 brand was launched on 4 Jun 2007, when the emblem was first revealed, exciting an extraordinary public reaction". I'll say. Seen here in context it's very much the odd one out, but it certainly upholds the Olympic tradition of cutting-edge design. What's needed in this space is an electronic poster, not yet published, representing the irreversible shift to dynamic multimedia. But that's for the next exhibition - Two Centuries of Olympic Posters. The children running around the gallery today may well enjoy that.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream