Rene Wanner's Poster Page


book cover So nicht! Umstrittene Plakate in der Schweiz 1883 - 2009
by Rolf Thalmann, published by Hier+Jetzt Verlag fuer Kultur und Geschichte, Baden (CH) (December 2009) ; 256 pages, 28 x 20 cm, 489 color and 39 b&w reproductions ; hardcover; in german; ISBN 978-3-03919-130-7; CHF 58 (about US$ 56)
Controversial swiss posters, from green horses to pregnant women, from minarets to cruzified cats, feminists and communists, pornography and politics, a rich and detailed documentation.

Rolf Thalmann, the former curator of the poster collection at the School of Design in Basel, Switzerland, had a longtime interest in controversial posters, going back to a short chapter "Forbidden posters" in Bruno Margadant's 1983 book on "Swiss Posters 1900 - 1983". Since then, he carefully collected and archived all the facts about posters that somehow stuck out of the ordinary and provoked angry letters to the editor of the local paper, police intervention, parliamentary debates, even discussion before the federal courts, but also led to amused jokes during the local carneval celebrations. Thalmann's research, mostly among the holdings of the 60'000 posters in his collection, revealed about 400 items from 1883 to the latest poster just pasted a few weeks befor the publication of the book in December 2009. All of them are illustrated, discussed and documented with detailed references, an impressive body of work.

The book starts with a summary of the past and current legal situation in Switzerland about what can be shown on posters and what not, and who is responsible for law and order. It becomes clear that regulating taste and public morale is a difficult task, often quite arbitrary, and in frequent need of revision.

The next chapter analyzes the reasons for the controversy: Sex, esthetic problems, damage to persons or companies, politics and religion. It concludes with short text chapters on controversial advertising, on famous poster cases outside Switzerland, and controversial paintings, movies, books and music.

1932, Karl Bickel, personal exhibition
too dangerous for school children

1935, Viktor Rutz, tourist poster for Arosa
insulting every true woman's dignity and too dangerous for train passengers

1982, At. Peter Marti, jeans poster
a threat to law and order, and to traffic safety

2000, At. Lang Gysi Knoll & Richard Avedon fot., poster for the trade fair MUBA

1914, Emile Cardinaux, Swiss National Exhibition
a horse is not green

1964, Hans Falk, Swiss National Exhibition
too artistic

1965, Armin Hofmann, tourist poster
too depressing

1950, Herbert Leupin, Mothers day
too primitive

1945, Hans Erni, Swiss-soviet friendship
a threat to swiss neutrality

1954, Hans Erni, No to nuclear bombs
more tasteless than immoral

1984, Romano Haenni, No to nuclear power
political propaganda paid by taxpayer

2009, Alexander Segert, Vote yes to ban minarets
racist and illegal

I like this book for several reasons:
  • I think it is a good sign for posters in general when some of them are talked about, evoke emotion, lead to heated debates. It means that the medium is alive and kicking, is still being taken seriously, is still a channel of communication. To look at controversy in posters from a historical point of view puts some of the current debates into perspective and sheds light onto the evolution of taste and tolerance. The book also shows that many of the controversial posters become quite acceptable, even good, even mainstream when viewed from a distance in time.

  • The focus of the present study is on what a poster does, how it acts, how it is received. This point of view is completely neglected in most other poster publications, and also in most poster competitions where good looks is all that counts. It is quite possible for a poster to win a major competition even when it has been seen only by a handful of people before the award, and another two handfuls after, and is sometimes not understood even by the jury. This a strange situation. Can you imagine a chemical molecule being awarded a prize for it's beauty or the intellectual brilliance needed to design it, irrespective of the fact whether it workes as a medicine or not?

    Some poster publishing companies like the APG in Switzerland or the GEWISTA in Austria do some poster action statistics and research, and I am sure many marketing departements have a keen eye on the influence a poster has on their sales (keeping their conclusions a closely guarded secret), but it is clear to me that the academic poster community can not continue indefinitely pretending their peace posters prevent wars and their global warming poster are widely welcomed and decrease climate change, without some convincing evidence that the posters have reached an audience and caused a reaction.

    I therefore appreciate that Rolf Thalmann asks and answers the question "What happened once the poster was published in the streets?"

  • The amount of material presented is substantial, is treated seriously, without ideological bias, and fun to read.

Below are some videos taken during the book launch on December 9, 2009 at the Buchhandlung Ganzoni in Basel, where Rolf Thalmann talked about some of the posters in his book, uf baseldytsch:

More reviews of this book:
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