Post-modern posters: from 1970-1980 to the present

Weingart Wolfgang, l’art d’écrire, Kunstgewerbemuseum, Zürich, Museum für Gestaltung, du 13 juin au 30 août 1981, 1981, Offset, 125,5 x 88,5 cm
Poster in the Postmodern style by Wolfgang Weingart, 1981
© Wolfgang Weingart

The International style was called into question in the seventies and eighties as an ever-increasing number of critics deplored its cold, formal and dogmatic aesthetic. Changes in mentalities occurred as evidenced by the May 68 events and the anti-Vietnam war movement as well as by the growing opposition to the outright consumerist society of the time. The Swiss style, born in the post-war period, was closely associated to businesses and public administrations and it consequently became the focus of much criticism. From the 1950s onward graphic art was everywhere as businesses, cultural institutions, regions, countries and events all sought the creation of their own image. Creators of these images were often inspired by the Swiss style. Many critics opposed this style; in Switzerland, the opposition was led by Wolfgang Weingart (1941) who taught in Basel alongside Armin Hofmann.

Wolfgang Weingart

Siegfried Odermatt, Rosemarie Tissi, Otto Rudolf Salvisberg 1882-1940, un architecte entre la tradition et la modernité, Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, 23.10.-14.11.1985, 1984, Offset, 128 x 90 cm
Siegfried Odermatt, Rosemarie Tissi, Otto Rudolf Salvisberg 1882-1940, un architecte entre la tradition et la modernité, Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, 23.10.-14.11.1985, 1984, Offset, 128 x 90 cm

Weingart saw the problems with the International typographic style at the end of the sixties. He thought that the new techniques called into question the very relationship of graphic artists to their work.
Ever since the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg, the printed page had not changed much. Fonts were made of metal and texts had to be composed by hand, letter by letter. The use of computers completely revolutionised work processes. The process known as photocomposition allowed printing on photographic paper texts that were stored on a computer's hard disk before working on the layout. The truly innovative aspect of this technique was the use of a disk, which contains negative characters that are positioned in rotation, according to the selected text, under the light of a stroboscope that sheds light on the photosensitive paper.
This technical innovation offered freedom, speed as well as cost reductions. Weingart was quick to realize the interest of this new approach. He created posters whose apparent complexity and impression of chaos were in reality made of spontaneity and a certain degree of humour.  His work, which advocates a personal style, full of dynamism, is diametrically opposed to the teachings of his professors.

Advocates of a revisited tradition

Still inspired by the International Style, some artists chose to adapt it to the newer work processes rather than renounce it completely. Graphic artists such as Siegried Odermatt (1926) from Zurich and Rosemarie Tissi (1937) worked with this approach. Not as revolutionary as Weingart, they chose to follow the rules rather than ignore them in order to create posters which could be easily deciphered. They developed spatial and typographic solutions that were less rigid than those of their predecessors while enriching the vocabulary of the International Style by creating works that were more flexible and mischievous. They were considered the leaders of a style known as Postmodernism, a movement, as is often the case that encompasses various realities. Nowadays, a great number of artists are following in these tracks, notably Ralph Schraivogel (1970). Graphic design and consequently posters are in constant evolution. To fulfil its information and promotion mandate, it must correspond to the aesthetic taste of contemporary society. The posters of today already contain the premise of tomorrow’s tastes!

This brief history of Swiss posters had as one of its main objectives to underscore the important events, which have influenced the evolution of this communication medium and creators working with this medium. We have stressed the important contribution of Swiss graphic artists in the world of graphic design and the influence of their works. Although the collection at the Swiss National Library is by no means exhaustive, it is nevertheless rich and impressive with its 45,000 works. This collection documents better than any other, the evolution of Swiss posters during the last 150 years and will continue to grow as long as posters are produced in Switzerland.

Last modification 15.10.2009

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