Posters have been the hand maidens to the avant-garde. When Art Nouveau challenged academic painting at the turn of the century, Toulouse Lautrec’s and other artists’ flat, bright, line-conscious posters helped disseminate the new grass roots art through Europe. In the ‘20s and ‘30s, posters were used to sell goods and services, and sophisticated graphic designers helped to elevate the tack-up ads to high art.
“Avant-Garde Posters 1920-1945" provides a good look at some excellent early 20th-Century posters. By the mid ‘20s, poster-making was fairly advanced, producing handsome experiments in photomontage and typography. “Zweden” (Sweden) by Anders Beckman from 1937 superimposes a large, black and white photomontaged sled dog over billboard-like drawings of skis, whipped cream mountains and little schematic skiers swooshing down slopes. “Up and Down” by Englishman Lee-Elliott uses an enormous photomontaged hand clutching ascending Leger-ish little feet to give a punchy split-second summary of the increase in London train travel from 1910 to 1935. Julius Klinger, one of Berlin’s most important poster designers, hawks a national loan program by turning the O in “Osterreich” into bold, hard-edge form. An excellent poster by O. Fischer-Trachau advertising a 1921 lecture on a rebel art exhibit appropriately belts out its message with the spikey black and red linear style of Kirchner and German woodblocks.
In the clever way works piggy back form and content, in their fantastical images intended to jolt us to attention, in their careful use of language and non-linguistic communication cues, these posters hold kernels of Surrealism, geometric abstraction and today’s conceptual art. (Turner Dailey Gallery, 7220 Beverly Blvd., to April 1.)