Happy Consumption

Happy Consumption
Temporary exhibition
17/05/2013
- 01/06/2014
Floor: 
-1
Curator: 
Rui Afonso Santos
Happy Consumption
Temporary exhibition
17/05/2013
- 01/06/2014
Floor: 
-1
Curator: 
Rui Afonso Santos
Body: 

 

The exhibition Happy Consumption. Publicity and society in the 20th century presents a selection of over 350 works from the Berardo Collection of Advertising Art, which in total numbers around 1500 pieces. This internationally unique collection is of unparalleled interest, bringing together exclusively hand-painted advertising originals miraculously saved from the ravages of time and their inevitable and usual destruction.

These original posters were intended for large-scale mechanical reproduction, generally using lithographic and rotographic processes, and constitute the back catalogue of the renowned James Haworth & Company, one of the main advertising agencies in the United Kingdom from around 1900, when it was founded, until roughly 1980. The extent of the company’s work, spanning thousands of projects of vast range, reflecting and driving the expansion of consumption, not only allows a detailed examination of the phenomenon of publicity and marketing, but also of its incomparable aesthetic interest, an original panorama by which to understand graphic design and the contemporary visual arts themselves.

Subject matter such as transport, tourism, the two World Wars, the Spanish Civil War, leisure, food, fashion, electrical appliances, toiletries, beauty products and cars express the reality of the political and social contingencies of this extensive period, as well as the inherent indices of economic and cultural development.

The first examples, of mimetic fashion figures interspersed with some examples of Art Nouveau, and political commentaries of World War I (when the firm obtained the accounts of companies as renowned as Cadbury, Oxo, J & J Colman and Rowntree), were followed by advertising for the new consumer goods and foods (electrical appliances, cigarettes, wheat flakes, tinned foods) and the impact of fashion, jazz and touris m, frequently delivered with a touch of humour, Art Déco or an increasingly spartan modernism.

The Wall Street crash and the Great Depression that followed encouraged a revisiting of 19th-century formality and the seductive imagery of archetypal cinematic beauties, broadened to encompass the comforting image of the ideal mother, alongside a more radical modernism – characteristics evidenced in the propaganda posters of World War II.

The economic expansion of the post-war period focused in particular on the radiant image of the Hollywood actress – portraits are identifiable of Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly, Gene Tierney, Joan Fontaine, Maureen O’Hara, Kim Novak, Doris Day and even Jennifer Jones and Audrey Hepburn – a veritable gallery of universal icons of which photography was the basis of a hyper-realistic graphic style, also applied to the images of men and children.

This hyper-realism was extended to the representation of cosmetics, food, clothes, tobacco, appliances and cleaning products, which at times added humour alongside the North-American cultural supremacy that stimulated the consumption of new products, such as instant or pre-prepared food, often by multinationals hailing from the same countries. Tourism and the spread of the car, converted into mass industries, continued to make use of graphic hyper-realism, though the expansion of colour photography and new printing techniques, such as offset, condemned the advertising illustration to extinction, making these works of art, which are today rare and highly sought after by collectors, the unforgettable items of an era.

Rui Afonso Santos
Curator