Commercial Break

Josef Maria Auchentaller's "Vienna Secession" of 1900 puts a new spin on that titillating tradition, using a nude male instead of a woman in an advertisement for a famous art show. The Secessionist-style artist breaks from his art nouveau predecessors in another way as well, giving the typography of the piece equal weight with the image. That same respect for type is seen in 1920's "Van Nelles Tabak (Van Nelles Tobacco)," by Dutch artist Jacob Jongert. The poster is breathtaking, and Miller has used it as a signpost for an artistic fork in the road. At this point, the exhibition arrives at the post-World War I boom in poster design. And whether the viewer turns left or continues ahead into a central corridor created by a pair of parallel partitions, the view is the same: Highly decorative art deco posters contrasted with more consciously designed modernist ones.

In the corridor are two of the most famous posters of the century: A.M. Cassandre's "Nord Express" and Pierre Fix-Masseau's "Exactitude." "Nord Express" is a 1927 ink on paper advertising a French railroad. Cassandre's approach is to convey the speed of the train by blurring the details of the locomotive, which is suggested by parallel lines set opposite the lines of the overhead wires. The name of the train is emblazoned across the top in thick, blocky letters. Fix-Masseau takes the opposite approach in "Exactitude," another French railroad poster from 1932 that shows a locomotive at rest. Across the top, in fine-line print, is the word "EXACTITUDE"--in this case, suggesting punctuality. The train stopped at the platform is meant to reflect the reliability of the ETAT railroad's schedule.

Back around behind the partition--the other tine in the show's fork--are more art-deco-style posters and a single piece from the art moderne style. Maurice Dufrene's 1930 "Rayon Des Soieries," a poster for a fabric company, depicts a woman holding a bolt of fabric over her arm. Dufrene, a Parisian who was also known for designing furniture, conveys his subject through a fascinating rhythm of solids and voids--the woman's hair, for example, is merely four parallel lines.

While some of the graphic artists of the 1920s and '30s were luxuriating in the highly lyrical and decorative styles of art deco and art moderne, others were reveling in the avant-garde movements associated with modern art and architecture. It's this kind of work that greets us as we turn away from the Dufrene. Many of these avant-garde posters sport little more than pure typography--lettering alone, perhaps, or letters set against simple geometric shapes. One of the most radical and forward-looking of them is "L'eloge de Ilia Zdanevitch," a 1922 ink on paper by Iliazde, a Russian expatriate living in Paris. The Dada-style poster features words in various type styles crammed nonsensically all over the poster, with not even a geometric pattern for relief. The work of another Russian expatriate also reveals the influence of modern art--in this case, Russian futurism. In Nataliya Goncharova's 1923 ink on paper "Grand Bal de Nuit," the typography loops around a muscular abstract arrangement.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Iliazde's or Goncharova's disordered displays were artists who opted for crisp design elements. In "Tentoonstelling Van Nederlandshe Gemeente Werken," a 1926 work that Dutch designer Antonius Kurvers created to advertise a Frank Lloyd Wright show, there's no imagery at all--just the typeface along with a red square and some red lines. A similar simplicity characterizes Herbert Bayer's "Europaeisches Kunstgewerbe," a 1927 ad for a craft exhibit in which modernist type has been laid over a checkerboard pattern. At the time, Bayer was working in Germany at that famous center for international-style design, the Bauhaus. The Nazis later closed down the allegedly subversive institution, which is the main reason Bayer subsequently wound up in Colorado. (A Bayer solo show is scheduled later this month in the DAM's Close Range Gallery.)

Paper Revolution is a rare opportunity to view works that, though they may seem familiar, are rarely seen in their original form. But it's more than that: There's also all that art history.

Paper Revolution: Graphics 1890-1940, through next spring at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 640-4433.

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