The poster was the quickest and most expressive medium in reflecting the change of sensibility during the 1920s, when the principles of modern visual communication were formed under the concept of ‘the new typography’. At that time the poster was seen as a new means of expression in the urban space; art of that time worked towards an affinity with the universal intelligibility of the poster.
The collection of Ladislav Sutnar’s posters from the collection of the Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague exhibited here demonstrates the transformations that this medium underwent between the 1920s and 1960s in the work of a leading figure of European new typography.
Poster design of the 1920s documents how painting and drawing were abandoned in favour of the potential provided by printing machines. However work with the letter and sign in the poster soon came up against the fact that Czech printing works were insufficiently equipped. In the second half of the 1920s Sutnar was one of the first to experiment with photomontage
in the Czech context.
Jan Tschichold’s publication The New Typography of 1928 contributed to promoting the principles of visual simplicity and precision across the whole of Europe. Ladislav Sutnar, who maintained working contacts with Tschichold, was also influenced by this publication. In 1930 he organised the Prague staging of the exhibition The New Poster, which introduced to the Czech context works of European new typography such as those by El Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy and Piet Zwart.
The set of Sutnar’s posters dating from the 1930s ranks among the most mature works of European new typography. It has frequently been exhibited and published, earning respect for the posters’ optical effectiveness and compositional perfection. In them, Sutnar works inventively with contrasts, negative colour, precise geometry and bold spatial construction. He uses photomontage as a means of surprising the viewer. Together, these visual elements enable swift and clear communication in the chaotic setting of the city.
Sutnar’s collection of posters from the 1920s and ’30s demonstrates the rich diversity in culture and activities of art associations in inter-war Czechoslovakia, in which Sutnar played an important role not only as an artist and designer but also as an organiser. In the United States, where he emigrated in 1939, he didn’t have as many opportunities to design posters. Despite this, his poster that was part of the advertising campaign for the firm Addo-x ranks among the most interesting American posters of the second half of the 20th century. With its European Modernist aesthetics and poetic transcendence, it differed markedly from advertising practice that was common at the time. Sutnar himself considered his American work in the field of visual design as the continuation of the new typography in the dynamically changing social and technological conditions of the 20th century.
Ladislav Sutnar perceived posters as an important part of a powerful movement that, during the 1920s and ’30s, modernised the entire lifestyle of society. For this reason he took great care in clarifying their context, as is documented by his correspondence published in the book Ladislav Sutnar in Texts (2010).
Curator / Iva Knobloch
Organised by he Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague
and the Institute of Art and Design of the University of West Bohemia.
Patronage / Mgr. Martin Baxa / Mayor of the City of Pilsen
Institute of Art and Design of the University of West Bohemia
DP — The Mark of a Good Book Ladislav Sutnar, 1930 colour linotype, 890 x 600 mm