With Plakatstil, the poster broke from the dungeons of lowly commercial advertising and boldly emerged as a triumphant art form. At the onset of the twentieth century, movements like Austria's Vienna Secession and Scotland's Glasgow School rejected curvilinear ornamentation in favor... [more]
With Plakatstil, the poster broke from the dungeons of lowly commercial advertising and boldly emerged as a triumphant art form. At the onset of the twentieth century, movements like Austria's Vienna Secession and Scotland's Glasgow School rejected curvilinear ornamentation in favor of sleek functionalism. From these initial stirrings came Plakastil (Poster Style), Germany's answer to the new Modernist simplicity.
It all began in 1906 with a poster contest for the Preister Match Company, when Lucian Bernhard won the competition with a revolutionary design. The poster features two large matches arranged simply against a dark background, with the company name staring decisively above them in block letters. It was clear and eye-catching, a stark departure from the floridity of Art Nouveau designs. Since then, Plakatstil has been best understood as aesthetic economy, getting rid of the fussiness. The success of the Bernhard's poster led to a revolution in graphic arts that dominated German advertising for the next decade.
The popularity of Plakatstil design was aided in large part by Das Plakat, a German magazine that showcased contemporary poster artists. From 1910 to 1920, Das Plakat was a lavish monthly journal that included numerous color tip-ins and inserts of original prints. The magazine brought attention to the Plakatstil emphasis on flat colors and shapes -- it represented the next step towards the abstraction that would preoccupy Modernist design.
From this design aesthetic came a new form of advertising: the sachplakat, or 'object poster.' In the sachplakat, the advertised object is heavily outlined and plunked down boldly on a flat color background. Text is kept to a minimum, usually only spelling out the brand name. Tedious marketing copy and visual distractions fall by the wayside, as the consumer eye is inevitably drawn to the intensely focused advertisement. Designers, most notably a group called the Berliner Plakat, mastered the graphic representation of industry and commerce. Their work prefigured branding in advertising.
At the onset of WWI, commercial artists shifted from product pushing to wartime propaganda. Plakastil poster art became the cornerstone for a new cause. A stylized realism developed, celebrating national strength and offering grotesque depictions of the enemy. A classic design from this time is Hans Rudi Erdt's 'U-Boats Out!' poster. 'U-Boats Out!' is a highly reductive composition that displays a clever use of letterforms. A huge, startling 'U' screams power and strength, as other bold text sits at an angle, wittily suggesting the dive of the German submarine. [show less]