Proto-Pop: The Elegant Object - Vintage Swiss Posters as Precursors to Andy Warhol and Pop Art

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International Poster Gallery presents Proto-Pop: The Elegant Object, an exhibition of original vintage Object Posters examining the genre's ties to the Pop Art works of artists like Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg.

Peter Birkhauser, rheinbrucke, vintage poster, object poster, swiss poster

Rheinbrucke by Peter Birkhauser

the Swiss Object Poster focused on the beauty and precision of mundane industrial era products such as toothpaste, sunglasses, sneakers and household cleaners

International Poster Gallery (IPG) proudly presents “Proto-Pop: The Elegant Object”, a first-of-its-kind exhibition of original vintage Object Posters from the Twenties to the 1940s, offered as precursors to the controversial and explosive Pop Art movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The exhibition, which is free and open to the public and runs October 6 – November 24, 2011, features 30 posters from Object Poster masters like Herbert Leupin, Otto Baumberger and Peter Birkhauser. Highlights from the show will draw connections to works by major Pop artists such as Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg, and will explore the points where the two movements converge, as well as contrast. International Poster Gallery is located at 205 Newbury Street in Boston and is open daily from 10am – 6pm and Sunday from noon – 6pm. For additional information, please visit http://www.InternationalPoster.com.

Featuring hyper-realistic drawings of everyday things, the Swiss Object Poster beginning in the Twenties focused on the beauty and precision of mundane industrial era products such as toothpaste, sunglasses, sneakers and household cleaners. These startling, larger-than-life advertisements foreshadowed by decades Pop Art's similar fascination with basic consumer products. Both styles elevate the commonplace object to a level of symbolism that elicits both shock and contemplation from the viewer. Though they display similar iconography, the Object Poster exalts the almost magical beauty of the object, while Pop Art uses the consumer object as an ironic symbol of rebellion.

Highlighting the show is a poster by Peter Birkhauser for the department store Rheinbrücke. Brirkhauser, like his mentor Niklaus Steocklin, excelled at creating unforgettable icons out of everyday objects. The artist created more than 50 Object Poster masterpieces during the Thirties, Forties and early Fifties and this elegant poster is an excellent illustration of his skill. The crisp folds of the wrapping paper, the trompe l'oeil affect of the green string and the whimsical flip of the handle evoke an ideal of luxurious presentation, leaving the contents of the package to the imagination of the consumer. Pop prince Andy Warhol captured a similar aesthetic in his famous “Brillo Boxes” sculpture, relying on the object to tell a powerful, if altogether contrasting story. Both artists recognized the natural draw of the Object, and their works speak volumes on the pervasive consumer culture of their respective times.

Also featured is a poster by design titan Herbert Leupin for Steinfels soap. Leupin created approximately 500 posters over a 30-year period, beginning his career in the Thirties as an Object Poster specialist and then modifying his style after the war. His injection of marketing imagination and gentle humor propelled the style to the forefront of Swiss poster art. The inclusion of a tromp l’oeil water droplet in a poster for a laundry soap adds a playful touch to an eerily super-real still life of a giant wooden clothespin and soap bar. Such a poster, featuring prodigious draughtsmanship and painstaking lithographic skill, took roughly 10 to 12 weeks to produce. It is interesting to compare Leupin’s work to Swedish sculptor Claes Oldenburg’s monumental Clothespin of 1976. The public art installation, located on Market Street in Philadelphia, is a popular example of Pop Art’s subversive idolization of the object as a symbol of an overly consumerist society.

The exhibition will include Otto Baumberger's seminal PKZ coat poster of 1923, and Alex Diggelman’s PKZ Box, neither of which utilize any superfluous text. There will also be important works from Niklaus Stoecklin, an Object Poster pioneer in Basel, as well as examples of Object Posters from other countries. Also included is a vintage shopping bag, screenprinted with the most recognizable icon of the Pop Art era, Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup can.

In addition to gallery shows and special exhibitions, IPG’s award-winning website, http://www.internationalposter.com offers the largest, most comprehensive online collection of vintage advertising posters in the world. Originally launched in 1998, the site contains nearly 4,500 images accessible through a powerful search engine.

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Joshua Payne
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