WEB POSTER EXHIBITION - The Chaumont poster festival 2011

The Chaumont poster festival is a yearly event now in it's 22. year, in a small historic town in the center of France. It is focused on an international poster competition, accompanied by many additional exhibitions and events, all within easy walking distance in pleasant sourroundings. Until recently, it used to be a watering place where the international poster elite and busloads of french students came together. Under the leadership of it's new director Etienne Hervy, the festival is changing its character drastically, not to everybodies liking, including my own, as you may sense from the report below:

The festival poster

This is the first poster I saw coming to Chaumont.

I was looking for the official festival poster, because the organizer did not answer my emails and I was left in the dark who had made it. I finally found several copies, although they were a bit hard to read, designed by the french group "Vier5".

Some festival posters had no text or picture at all, like this one in front of City Hall.

.. and were not appreciated by the sprayer kids, nor the rest of the population, according to a Chaumont newspaper.

The international competition (see also the panorama pictures)

When I arrived at the exhibition hall for the international competition on Saturday morning at 11 o'clock, the place was deserted, which I found a bit strange, considering that this was the inaugural weekend. For about an hour, I was the only visitor. Despite a budget of about 1 Million Euro, the festival normally attracts only about 2000 visitors, almost all of them during the opening weekend.

The organizers must have realized that something had to be done and so they hired a bunch of musical clowns to seduce the population to visit the exhibitions. In earlier ages, it was of course the other way round: Posters made people go to the circus.

In the exhibition I first noticed a paper with some important announcements for which I had searched the Chaumont web site in vain, in an exchange of letters between festival director Etienne Hervy and the jury presidents Mathias Agustyniak and Michael Amzalag:
  • The jury was composed of M/M Paris (Mathias Agustyniak and Michael Amzalag), Xavier Antin, Didier Lestrade, Olympia Le Tan, Daniel Mason, Fanette Mellier
  • None of the judges is a graphic designer
  • There was no preselection jury, the jury judged all the material received
  • The competition was open to "all media used by graphic designers".
  • The jury awarded only one prize, which unanimously went to Cornel Windlin from Switzerland.

Not explained or even mentioned in the text was the fact that the number of selected artists had dropped to 24 from 72 in the previous year.

I noticed many posters who's meaning is not clear to me, and felt more like going to an art show than to a poster festival. After reading the catalogue, I had the impression that this is exactly the direction in which the festival wants to move, and I expect the word "poster" to disappear soon from the title of the festival.

( a poster by the jury presidents Agustyniak and Amzalag )

First and only prize to Cornel Windlin, Switzerland (see also the panorama pictures)

Winning poster by Cornel Windlin
Cornel Windlin from Switzerland was awarded the first prize for theater posters, programs and flyers for the the seasons 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 of the Schauspielhaus in Zuerich, Switzerland.

The poster (or flyer?) at left is specifically titled "Prize awarded by the jury" in the english version of the catalogue. However it is missing in the french version, and I don't remember seeing it in the international exhibition, where about 30 of Windlins's posters were shown.

It is not clear whether the 30 posters were submitted and selected as part of the international competition, or were requested afterwards for a kind of integrated laureate exhibition. The jury co-president Mathias Augustyniak claims that Windlin submitted 1000 posters.

Windlin's work was considered by the jury to be so much superior to all other work submitted that only one prize could be awarded.

While participants in the competition were invited to submit other works beside posters, none of the other material received was of sufficient quality to be shown in the exhibition, except Cornel Windlin's brochures and flyers.

The student poster competition

Exhibition of student posters, during the inaugural weekend.
Although the exhibition had been running for a week already, it looked a bit unfinished.
The subject of this year's student competition was "Open texts", and the students were supplied with a detailed bibliography of suitable text with which to make a poster or other "graphic-design output: publications, printed objects, video, interactive productions, etc.".

There was lots of empty space in the exhibition halls, because only 345 entries were received compared with normally 1400 entries during the past years. The decline was attributed by the jury president to "the new format" of the competition.

The true reason is that last year the students were told officially by the jury that the quality of all their work was so poor that it did not merit to be judged. After big protests by teachers and students on Facebook (and Posterpage), the jury changed its mind in the last minute, awarded prizes anyway and blamed a "communication problem" for the desaster.

This year, the first prize of the student competition went to Amy Lewis for a book. Honorable mentions were given for a link list (who's first entry that I checked was broken), and to a text, remarkable by the fact that it was the only text that a student had written himself, no poster attached. So apparently, the connection between the Chaumont competitions and posters, visual communication or graphic design has become very weak. Or maybe I am the victim of a communication problem again.

The full extent of the this year's decline in quantity and public interest becomes apparent when comparing the video at right with one from the competition in 2009 ( 1546 entries ).

Exhibition in the Chapelle des Jesuits

The exhibition by the dutch group LUST consisted of an inkjet printer on the gallery of the church. Every few seconds, it printed a sheet of paper with poster thumbnails on it, which then dropped to the ground floor of the church. A handwritten notice encouraged you to pick up the papers and stick them to the walls of the church. Later I learned that you need a cell phone to fully appreciate the installation, but don't know why, and also don't get the idea of the exhibition. It reminded me of a similar exhibition a few years ago by the english group Tomato which dumped a carload of flyers to the ground of the chapel as a manifesto of their creativity.

Ed Fella

Ed Fella is an american graphic designer who spend a large part of his life doing regular graphic design work like designing letterheads for gas stations and so on. One day he quit this job and did full time what he had always done for pleasure: Building his own universe with a huge output of small posters or flyers the way he liked it.


The exhibition of posters and and applied graphics from the legendary italian typewriter company Olivetti suffered from a labyrinthic exhibition concept and highly reflecting plastic foils in which the exhibition objects were enclosed.

See how Milton Glaser's famous Mourning dog poster really looks like.

La Fabrique

The festival makes available about a dozen exhibition spaces of 25 m2 each in an abandoned textile factory. You can submit your project, if it is accepted you get 1500 Euro and can do with your exhibition space whatever you want. I liked the project from the dutch group On going best, they used their space to show more good posters than all the rest of the festival put together, well almost.

The Chaumont shop windows

In the early years of the Chaumont festival, the shopkeepers often decorated their windows with posters, so the whole city looked like a big poster exhibition.

The custom then died, maybe the shopkeepers lost interest in the festival, but this year, some windows were decorated again, by professional typographers with white paint.

Inkremental (see also the panorama pictures)

The idea of this exhibition by a dozen invited artists is to start with a monochrome silkscreen print.

In the next print run, a second color is printed on top of the first. Enough copies are saved from each successive print run so that a complet print history is available for pasting in intervals of two or three days.

Three posters with 4 colors each.

With a freshly pasted poster, when the glue is still wet, you can sometimes lift it and compare it with the previous version.

The poster exhibitions on concrete pillars are located in different parks in the city.

I'm not sure if the experiment continues after the inauguration weekend, or why most of the columns are empty or whether anybody really cares.

Some people I met

Cornel Windlin, prize winner

The portrait of Michael Amzalag, jury co-president, was removed at his request.

Etienne Hervy, director of the Chaumont festival

Jean-Paul Bachollet, wellknown visitor

Farewell Chaumont

Leaving Chaumont. The last billboard I saw.

home   previous exhibitions  page created on June 30, 2011 / this section is part of Rene Wanner's Poster Page /