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BOOK REVIEW


front cover Donald Brun Poster Collection 02, Museum fuer Gestaltung Zuerich
Essay by Jean-Charles Giroud; Published by Felix Studinka / Lars Mueller Publishers CH-5401 Baden (CH)(October 2001); available from Museum fuer Gestaltung, Zuerich (CH); 64 pages, 69 color reproductions; 17 x 24 cm; softcover; ISBN 3-907078-53-5; in german and english; CHF 28 (about US$ 17)
Catalogue published for an exhibition at the Museum fuer Gestaltung, 2001.10.23 - 2002.02.08, with a list of posters, short bibliography and biography


The cover is a detail from a 1966 poster for Gauloises cigarettes

Having received an introduction into poster history in grade 2 from my elementary school teacher Lily Graf (god bless her for that), Herbert Leupin and Donald Brun were my first poster heroes. And of course everybody recognized their work in the streets of Switzerland, and loved it. Donald Brun was so famous internationally, we were told, that he got commissions from as far away as Belgium !

Although Donald Brun ( 1909 - 1999 ) seems to be largely forgotten today, heroes never die, and so his standing in my universe solidified when I learned much later that he was one of the four founding members of AGI, the prestigious international graphic designers association, and even more when I heard that the Museum fuer Gestaltung in Zuerich was organizing a personal exhibition and publishing a monograph, their first after a pause of many years. Justice had finally been done.

Imagine my shock and disbelief when I heard a poster dealer making disparaging remarks about the quality of Brun's posters ( "a few are good, the bulk is just soso" ), and when I read in the catalogue introduction sentences from Felix Studinka like

Some prestigious commissions gained Brun the reputation of being one of the most successful swiss graphic artists. But what was "Modern" about his work, where can we detect "the future" ? and even more disturbing, although less clear .. he revealed, at a high level, the dubious morality surrounding the "good and beautiful poster" ..

Looking back at Brun's posters from a distance of fifty years, it is obvious to me that he painted whatever people liked at the time, and succeeded admirably, and developed a rich graphic vocabulary in so doing. His fall from the grace of the experts worried me sufficiently that I checked what happened to some of his contemporaries in this respect:

  • Cassandre ( b. 1902 ) ultimately paid with his life for refusing to make concessions to public tastes. He was temporarily forgotten, but today is considered one of the greatest posterist of all time.
  • Savignac ( b. 1907 ), like Brun, did not care too much whether his works were "modern" or pointing to "the future", but fortunately lived long enough so that the question became moot, and he remained everybody's darling until today.
  • Armin Hofmann ( b. 1920 ), Brun's colleague in Basel, fought valiantly against visual pollution, which earned him a high and lasting reputation in academia, but not so much on the street.

Should we conclude that Donald Brun traded short time popularity for long time fame ?

Who knows. The catalogue fortunately is well illustrated so that you can make up your own mind. Jean-Charles Giroud, who's poster collection at the Bibliotheque Publique et Universitaire in Geneva holds Donald Brun's graphic estate, and who wrote the essay in the catalogue, takes a more pragmatic approach. Rather than classifying Brun as an artist, he looks at each poster and comments and compares them:

Together with Herbert Leupin, also hailing from Basel and working in a style similar to his own, Brun became a master of the humorous poster. Over a period of some ten years, he created a unique series of works that have, in the meantime, become classics. The leading firms of his times entrusted him with their publicity:

1944, There is nothing better than Persil 1946, Use the phone! 1947, Aronal vitamin toothpaste 1953, Zwicky silk thread

The catalogue is number 02 of a series now being published in rapid succession by the Museum for Gestaltung in Zuerich, and is so good that I hope to see what will happen when they reach number 99.

Links

Museum fuer Gestaltung, Zuerich, exhibition review
Brun's biography in Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz (in german)
Bata shoe poster at the International Poster Gallery
Poster for Binaca toothpaste
Google picture search on Donald Brun


Jim Lapides from the International Poster Gallery commented on 2002.01.19 There is more of value to Brunís role than he is often given. Cappiello, Leupin and others are criticized because they are not avant-garde. But their posters sold a lot of product! And it is also too easy to dismiss the role of humor, which had disappeared in the Thirties and Forties as the world descended into hell. Brun was one of the people who made it the style of the Fifties, when people needed a break from the Cold War and the horrors of the recent past. Though not of the stature of Leupin, Savignac or Rand, Brun was certainly part of the scene.

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