Those annoying ads on the wall serve as a mirror of modern societyWalk the streets or ride the subway, and countless posters compete for your attention. Through them you get new information, such as the imminent release of a new movie or a charitable campaign to help starving children in North Korea.
But what do you see in an old placard for a long-forgotten tailor shop or a World War II-era poster decrying Naziism? "Posters are the mirror of the times," says designer Kim Hye-kyung. "Posters are social art." Through posters, we can track politics, culture, even business trends within a society.
An exhibition using posters to mirror the movements that shaped the 20th century will open Friday at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Seoul. The show, "100 years of 20C World Posters," features 120 placards chosen from a collection of 3,200 pieces housed in Tama Art University's museum in Japan. The Seoul exhibition was organized by the Kimhyekyung Design Studio. It will run through Sept. 16.
The posters are organized into seven groups. Those used for propaganda and social issues campaigns make up the "Appeal" section. Examples range from 1930s placards promoting the Soviet Union's socialist policies to a recent, and shocking, anti-drug poster made in Belarus, the former Soviet satellite country. The poster, "Forbidden Fruit," depicts the brain cut from a man's head as if it were a piece of watermelon.
The "Corporate Image" section looks at business and industry. It includes a popular poster created in the 1980s by IBM, the U.S. computer giant. The poster has only three simple figures, in vivid color, set against a black background. The first is a human eye representing the letter "I." The second is a bee for the letter "B." And the third is the letter "M." IBM's top management reportedly didn't like the placard, but had faith in their designers and approved the poster.
The posters in the "Fashion" section depict what was stylish when the pieces were created. A 1910 poster for an Austrian hat shop heralds the birth of modernism with its contrast of red and black images and its omitted details.
The "Travel" section features tourism posters, including a recently printed railroad placard from the United States. The "Commercial" section reviews a century of consumer products, including dog food advertised in a French poster from the early 1900s. The "Entertainment" section presents posters promoting exhibitions, concerts, theatrical performances and movies.
The "Big Event" focuses on posters from world expositions. Since expos have traditionally heralded the fruits of the Industrial Revolution, the section's posters are unabashedly optimistic about progress and technology. A poster for the 1925 Paris Expo, for instance, depicts wafts of factory smoke rising to form the shape of a rose.
Tying the entire show together is the "Art and Design" section, a collection of posters made by the design team that organized this exhibition. These works blur the line between commercial and fine art, and serve as a fitting metaphor for an art form that has served as a window into each period of the past century.
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by Moon So-young