Bronenosets Potemkin, 1905. Benito Medela-Piquepé Collection. Courtesy: Museo Picasso Málaga.
The first thing that catches your attention in this large exhibit centered on the beginnings of advertising in Europe is its surprising and unexpected arrangement. Extensive scaffolding occupies the central space of the room, where posters from the end of 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century are hung. The approach, risky but justified, is complemented by the projection of several films (the most interesting, without a doubt, is Walther Ruttman’s Berlín, Symphony of a Great City (1927)), which portray the passage of the nineteenth century city, its slow pace anchored in models inherited from life in the fields, to the new city of the future, conditioned by a hectic pace and urgent needs that did not exist before. It is the beginning of the consumer society and brands, a socio-economic phenomenon derived from industrialization and production line techniques which, by improving its methods, will generate an output that is much higher than the real needs of the people. It will then be much easier to manufacture products than to sell them, and companies’ interest will shift toward promotion. In this new dimension, printed ads in the street will play a key role with to their capacity to directly question the anonymous passer-by, who, at the same time, becomes a potential client and an impromptu viewer of a new type of proposal with tremendous creative possibilities.
As demonstrated in the Museo Picasso de Málaga’s latest project, we should seek the dawn of the contemporary poster in Toulose-Lautrec and Jules Chéret’s art work, precursors to this language that rapidly grows, among other reasons, thanks to the improvement of the lithographic process, which allows reducing the cost for its widespread coverage and creating more color and eye-catching models. Advertising campaigns would be soon to come, the first in 1898 from the Michelin tire company. The artist O’Galop designed a daring character named Bidendum who became the first logo-mascot in history. That same year in Spain, the Catalan liquor company Anis del Mono hired the well-known painter Ramón Casas for similar work. “The poster was the ideal vehicle to transmit new political, cultural and advertising concepts” explains Carlos Pérez, curator of the exhibit, which gathers more than 175 original pieces from more than 100 authors and completes an extensive graphic tour which takes us through cities such as Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Milan and London. Along those lines, the importance of graphic arts and its value as propaganda will become evident in the armed conflicts that devastated the continent at the time, especially in Russia after the 1917 revolution where more than 70% of the population was illiterate.
The posters prior to the 19th century were related to the world of books and words. They gave information, nothing more. A century later, their influence would come from painting and drawing. They became visual decoys that represented the tastes and styles of the modern metropolis. These catchy and attractive posters that began to occupy the squares and invade urban space became, almost without wanting to, a hinge that allowed moving from written culture to visual culture in a short period of time. Born at the same time, cinema, which developed at an even faster rate, was also important in this transition to the iconic. These two pillars were precisely what determined the personality of the 20th century and define one of the main characteristics of our current world, the supreme importance of the image.