Margaret Timmers' A Century of Olympic Posters, the image-filled companion volume to the Victoria ∧ Albert Museum exhibition, explores a variety of themes related to the Games. Originally published in the U.K., the book starts with modern Olympics founder Baron Pierre de Coubertin (careful to point out early English athletic competitions, as well) and ends with a sampling of posters for the 2008, 2010 and 2012 Games.

Timmers gives an overview of each Olympiad, including brief mentions of star athletes, sports or ceremonial elements making their debut, and technologies employed for the first time. She shows the influence of politics and world events on IOC decisions regarding banishment, and withholding/withdrawal of hosting honors.

She also makes astute observations about the realities of staging the increasingly monumental events, from ensuing debt (as far back as the 1920s) to the lasting transformation of a city (Barcelona is a prime example, she says).

But, of course the posters are the real subjects of this book and they are discussed in great detail, from designers and print runs, to trends and movements. Posters from the 1920s and '30s draw heavily from rail travel posters of the day; later, artists like David Hockney and Jacob Lawrence brought their signature styles to designs for the Munich Games of 1972.

The striking posters from the U.S.-boycotted 1980 Moscow Games bear similarities to a poster heralding the 1948 London Games; while a spirited emblem evoking a leaping figure gives a colorful 1992 Barcelona poster a light, joyful look.

Photography lent a cinematic effect to posters for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, which also featured Yusaku Kamekura's simple, yet powerful logo combining the red rising sun from Japan's flag with the Olympic rings rendered in gold. The five interlocking rings - all in one color or in the traditional blue, yellow, black, green and red - are without a doubt the most familiar symbol of the Olympics and have been incorporated into Olympic posters since the Stockholm Games of 1912, Timmers says.

Throughout A Century of Olympic Posters, Timmers draws connections between national identity, the Olympic ideal of international participation and the need to announce each specific Olympiad. This comprehensive survey scores a perfect 10.

 

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