Poster art

The poster is an industrially produced artistic object. For the first time in the history of civilisation a work of art is produced using a technical instrument, an “invisible hand” moved by an disembodied artist: a machine.

Through printing, the reality of modern man – his dreams, his glorious obsessions – takes the shape of graphic beauty: the poster “houses” on its thin, light paper surface the identity of the modern world, represented by category and ordered into recognisable chapters of every aspect of the existentialistic habits of a life ever more in want of necessities. Necessities which are “induced” by a market whose infinite choice of goods of a more or less luxury type will irreversibly change the habits of mankind.

Owning historical posters and the love of collecting them means becoming emotional proprietors of an extraordinary era, evoked by the compositional beauty and the formal precision which is characteristic of all of these paper works of art. It also means putting in the archives for pure personal pleasure (in many cases, at affordable prices), a concrete example of a technical and cultural revolution, slave to a demiurgic commitment to the creation of “serializable beauty”. The latter being a conceptual institution which, after the “death” of art as it is more traditionally understood, (with Malevich’s “Black Square”, where light swallows itself up, forever excluding any retinal possibility of vision), will guarantee, for the whole of the 20th century, an extraordinarily energetic revival of representational concepts.

Undisguised beauty

From the perspective of the Italian art market the L’IMAGE Collection constitutes a truly rare and precious concern. A collection of epoch-making posters assembled by its curator over years of avid and unexhausted research – from the elegant graphics of the dawning of the art nouveau up to the most original avant-garde attempts – visual documents of artistic production “in the age of mechanical reproduction”; where the production of art is no longer a result of traditional creativity but rather where its artistic value issues, Hegelianly, from an purely technical process.

With the invention of industrial printing and thus the poster, the relationship of the masses with the work-product changes, also because the customer is new: industry, creating new needs for new social classes, and recognising in the poster the immense power of divulgation.

An ante litteram “pop” phenomenon, the poster is the visual result of a mechanical revolution; the industrially produced, reproducible “imago” is of true beauty, just as the processes needed to exhibit it are true. Its seductive power is based upon the stylistic features dictated by a “necessity for the beautiful” as “the beauty of Necessity”, the practical compromise between ethics and aesthetics, of which the posters, presented here from the L’IMAGE Collection, are a revealing example.

Text by Renzo Orsini, art and design historian