London Undergrounds Greatest Designs
London Transport Museum
Covent Garden Piazza, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 7BB
Until Sunday 5 January 2014
Opening times Monday to Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 10am until 6pm
Friday 11am until 6pm
London Transport Museum
Review by Beth Walrond
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the worlds first underground railway, the London Transport Museum are exhibiting 150 carefully chosen posters, from the Museum’s archive of over 3,300 designs. They pay homage to Underground art from the beginning of the 20th century and range from traditionally rendered picturesque countryside scenes, to avant-garde modernist pieces.
Poster Art 150 at the London Transport Museum
Poster Art 150 is organised into six themes, containing an eclectic set of reasons for people to travel under the capital city, rather than alternative surface methods of transport. These range from using the Underground to escape from the chaos of city life to the peaceful countryside, to keeping warm and dry during the winter months. A pair of posters that demonstrate this are Fredrick Charles Herrick’s bright designs ‘It is warmer below’ and ‘It is cooler below’ 1926, which through the use of simple pattern and bold colour show why the underground is the best way to travel no matter what the weather.
Fredrick Charles Herrick - 'It Is Cooler Below'
John Hassall - 'No Need to ask a P'liceman', the first poster to be comissioned by Frank Pick in 1908
The exhibition does not focus on a particular decade or style of poster but instead spans across the century, from the first poster comissioned by Frank Pick in 1908, to the numerous designs by prolific 1920’s artist Edward McKnight Kauffer. Fashion focused posters by Dora M Batty are not far from the surreal photographic imagery in Zoo Choice by Michael Read, 1970. The variety and stylistic range of artwork created over a period of time for this single client is fascinating; not only from an artistic perspective, but also in the way that it reflects the change in Britain’s society over the past 100 years.
Edward McKnight Kauffer - 'Power - The Nerve Centre of London's Underground'
Dora M Batty - 'There is Still the Country'
Michael Reid - 'Zoo Choice; Flamingo'
A striking feature noticeable from even this small snippet of Underground posters is the artistic freedom given to the creators over their designs. From the style and typefaces, to the aesthetics and incorporation of the Underground logo, the posters were often the entire creation of each artist commissioned. An example of this is ‘The Quickest Way To The Dogs’ by Alfred Leete, 1927 where the Underground logo is used as a muzzle on the greyhound, and then in the twin posters produced by Man Ray, 1938 where it appears orbiting a planet. Compared to the uniformity of the adverts that line the walls of tube stations today, this sense of individuality is a refreshing insight into a world before design as we currently know it.
Alfred Leete - 'The Quickest Way to the Dogs'
Man Ray - 'London Transport - Keeps London Going'
Despite the fantastic aesthetics and variety of the posters on display, one small let down of the exhibition is the viewing space in which the posters are displayed. It is not possible to step back and view each poster individually, as they are packed in wall to wall, with very little other than a corridor left in which to view them. You are left feeling slightly overwhelmed at the mass of posters, and information that accompanies each design. It could be argued that this simulates the viewing experience of a London Underground passenger, on equally cramped stations and train carriages.
The exhibition space in which the posters are displayed are reminiscent of tightly packed stations and train carriages
The exhibition ends with Paul Catherall’s now iconic lino print image of the riverside Tate Modern Gallery building from 2003. This leaves visitors with a final reminder of the importance of the London Underground as a platform for introducing the public to new art movements and artists, as well as illustrators and artists to the industry, an ever strengthening relationship which has now spanned for over a centaury.
Paul Catherall - 'Tate Modern'
The Poster Art 150 Exhibition has been extended until 5th January 2014, because of popular demand.