Rene Wanner's Poster Page


front cover Klaus Staeck - Ohne Auftrag - Unterwegs in Sachen Kunst und Politik
(Without commission - on the road for art and politics)
by Klaus Staeck; Steidl Verlag, Goettingen (D) (Sep 2000); 290 pages, hundreds of color illustrations, 24 x 31 cm; hardcover; ISBN 3-88243-739-1; in german

The numbers first: The posters of Klaus Staeck have been shown in more than 3000 individual exhibitions, participated in more than 600 group exhibitions, he has fought and won 40 court cases about them, and the total print run of his works now exceeds 28 million. Google finds 1200 entries on him.

He had no formal training as artist yet many of the hundreds of posters and postcards he designed have had such a high emotional impact on viewers that some of them, in particular venerable german politicians, became red hot from rage. People have risked, and lost, their jobs for displaying them. Many see in him a successor of John Heartfield, the political artist who used photomontage to unmask Hitler in 1932 already.

If you picture Staeck as a wild-eyed, long-haired revolutionary presumably living on welfare and in the pay of some marxist trouble makers, as I did before I met him, you would be far off. He has the civil and distinguished manners and looks of a professional lawyer, which he is beside being an artist, and when he writes down the story of his life in this book he does it in such a modest, elegant and amusing style that he easily wins the reader's heart.

1971, "Would you rent a room to this woman?"

1972, "German workers! The Social Democratic Party wants to take away your country houses in Switzerland"

1988, "Caution Art!"

1994, "Coca Cola presents"

Staeck had his first breakthrough as a poster designer with "Would you rent a room to this woman?". He had become annoyed by the endless celebrations for Albrecht Duerer's 500th birthday and decided to re-establish some connection between art and real life and to observe what would happen: The women in the poster is in fact Albrecht Duerer's mother. Buying regular advertising space on 330 of Nuremberg's billboards, he created instant irritation. Up to 200 people called City Hall daily to ask what this was all about, and Staeck had discovered a medium he was to use with phenomenal success for the next thirty years.

The next poster shown above, one of the Staeck classic's, illustrates his masterful use of irony as a political weapon. Being a member of the Social Democratic Party, he drew an election poster satirizing the scare tactics of the opposing right wing Christian Democrats: It was clear to everybody that no worker had a holiday retreat in southern Switzerland and the threat that it would be taken from them was simply ridiculous. Also, the Christian Democrats had the problem how to fight a poster on which they were not even mentioned directly.

Apart from designing political posters, Staeck points his finger at a wide range of evils, from environmental pollution, corporate greed, militarism, racism, nazism, telephone bugging to all sorts of stupidity. There is thus every indication that he will survive the loss of his pet enemy, chancellor Helmuth Kohl, who lost the election in 1998.

Although I do not agree with many of the statements in Klaus Staeck's posters, as tempting as this may be, I have the highest respects for him, his wit, his courage, his ideas about art and his clever way to market his convictions.

Many of his posters can still be purchased, please visit his web site or subscribe to the catalogue "Staeckbrief", and buy this book.


A review of this book in german
Klaus Staeck's own web site "Edition Staeck" with hundreds of pictures
Staeck as jury president at the 100 best german poster competition 1999

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