The Medium is the Message: Books on poster art from the Soviet Union to the London Underground

Today we take a look at three Yale University Press books on poster art, each examining the medium from a different niche point of view.

Whether advertising a product or promoting a political party, poster campaigns have always been one of the most effective and strikings ways to transmit a message. Even in the age of television commercials, digital advertising and social media marketing, a well designed poster with a bold message still has the power to make us stop and think.

Yale University Press publishes a number of books that examine poster art and advertising from different perspectives. Whether its the Soviet TASS propaganda posters, London Underground’s ubiquitous publicity campaign or quirky ads promoting spurious medical products (check out the ad for ‘Sparklet Nasal Spray’ at the bottom of this post), these richly-illustrated and colourful books are perfect for those interested in the evolution of visual media and advertising.

Art for All

Art for All

Art for All: British Posters for Transport
Yale Center for British Art

In 1908 London Underground began a comprehensive publicity programme that became one of the most successful, adventurous, and best-sustained promotional operations ever attempted. The posters commissioned not only encouraged travel on the capital’s burgeoning public transport system; they also helped to foster a civic identity for metropolitan London. The four national rail lines created in 1923, inspired by this example, created their own campaigns.

This richly illustrated book celebrates the designs, highlighting works that are among the triumphs of twentieth-century poster art. Designed to accompany an exhibition at the Yale Center for British Art, Art for All features more than one hundred works executed for the Underground and the railways. The book explores the evolution of transport posters in twentieth-century Britain, featuring the career of E. McKnight Kauffer, perhaps the greatest of these poster artists; the role of women designers; the printing techniques that brought the designs to life; and, the strategies of display developed by the transport systems.

Both a visual delight and a work of scholarship, Art for All pays tribute to these extraordinary exploits in public design. More

Page from Art for All

Windows on the War

Windows on the War

Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941-1945
Art Institute of Chicago

Windows on the War is a groundbreaking publication – the first in English to focus on posters designed by the Soviet Union’s “TASS” news agency to bolster support for the Soviet war effort. “TASS” posters were created by a large collective of Soviet writers, printers and artists, including such notables as Mikhail Cheremnykh, Nikolai Denisovskii, the Kukryniksy, and Pavel Sokolov-Skalia. Often six feet tall and always striking and bold, these stenciled posters were printed and placed daily in windows for the public to see. They were also sent abroad to serve as international cultural “ambassadors”, rallying Allied and neutral nations to the Soviet cause.

Drawn from the Art Institute of Chicago‘s collection as well as other private and public holdings, these “TASS” posters have not been seen since World War II. An international team of scholars presents the “TASS” posters both as unique historical objects and as artworks that reveal how preeminent artists of the day used unconventional technical and visual means to contribute to the war effort, marking a major chapter in the history of design and propaganda.

Generously illustrated, the book presents photographs, documentary materials and memorabilia in meaningful juxtapositions with images of the “TASS” posters. Also included are documents illuminating the expression of Russian cultural life in the United States during the war, opening a fascinating window on to the war along the Eastern Front and the development of this remarkable aesthetic genre. More

Page from Windows on the War

Page from ‘Windows on the War’

Health for Sale

Health for Sale

Health for Sale: Posters from the William H. Helfand Collection
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Since the late 1960s, William H. Helfand has donated more than 1,000 posters, prints, and ephemera to the Philadelphia Museum of Art‘s Ars Medica Collection, the world’s only collection of medical prints housed in an art museum. This fascinating book presents some 50 of the nearly 200 posters in the renowned Helfand Collection, and includes the work of prominent artists such as Jules Cheret and Leonetto Cappiello.

Cheret’s large, colourful lithographs elevated the commercial placard to the rank of art, while Cappiello’s arresting figures revolutionized 20th-century poster design. Additional examples demonstrate the wide range of compositions produced by unidentified artists working in Europe and the United States between the late 19th and 20th centuries. Dating from the mid-19th to the late 20th century, these posters – sometimes strange or startling but most often amusing – address a wide range of topics, including hygiene, medical conferences, and spurious miracle cures. More

Books on poster art are available to buy from Yale University Press.

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