Posters from the 1972 Olympics reveal ambitions for a different Games to the one remembered, reports Laura Davis
IN THE aftermath of bloodshed it was hard to remember the 1972 Munich Olympics had once been dubbed “the Happy Games” by its organisers.
In the second week, 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were killed by Palestinian group Black September who had taken them hostage demanding the release of 234 prisoners.
During a failed rescue attempt, five of the eight terrorists were killed by police. A West German police officer also died.
It was the year slalom canoeing was introduced, the year US swimmer Mark Spitz set a world record with seven gold medals, the first time a referee was asked to swear the Olympic Oath – and yet the history books would recall Munich’s “Happy Games” purely for violence and death.
But before all that – before the last sweeping, acrylic canopy was added to the Olympic stadium, before Hungarian artist Viktor Vasarely’s Bright Sun logo was unveiled to the public, even before the launch of the official mascot (Waldi the dachshund) – it was decreed this would be a special Games.
In a blaze of positivity, it was hoped Munich would wipe out all uncomfortable memories of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which was used to promote Nazi ideals and had very nearly banned Jewish and non-white competitors. For the first time in Olympic history, artists were called upon to create posters as part of the celebrations. A tradition that continues to this day.
Eighteen of these found their way into National Museums Liverpool’s collection, via its education department, and are now being exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery.
Among the 18 lithographic prints now on display are works by David Hockney, German-born op artist Josef Albers, Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida and British pop artist Allen Jones.
“They wanted to approach masters of art, people like Picasso and also emerging artists,” says researcher Emma Sumner.
“Picasso didn’t create a poster so we don’t know whether he was asked and refused or whether they never asked him to do one, but that was the sort of standard they were looking for. Nine nations were represented across the 28 artists.
“When you look around the room you can see that the posters give a really good snapshot of the artistic styles of the 70s.”
Hockney’s poster has a similiar theme to his John Moores Painting Prize-winning work, Peter Getting Out of Nick’s Pool, which also hangs in the Walker. Both show swimmers and characteristically depict the reflections on the surface of the pool, but his Olympic piece has a certain intensity compared to the relaxed atmosphere of the California painting.
Jones’s poster pits the two brothers behind running shoe companies Puma and Adidas against each other in a muscular, full-hued work. The original firm split into two during a family feud.
The oldest artist featured is Austrian painter and writer Oskar Kokoschka, whose poster shows a nude figure with his head bent forward. At the time it was printed, there was debate over whether the man was an athlete in old age or simply one focussed on preparing for the competition.
“The artists were given a lot of freedom with their subject matter and were even allowed to choose their own printer, so the posters were printed in all different countries,” reveals Sumner.
Created to promote the Games internationally and to help fund them, the poster project was run by partnership company, Edition Olympia, set up with publishing house F Bruckmann KG.
Printed in five series of seven, they were sold as three grades of quality for three different prices – and two thirds of profit generated by their sale went directly into funding the Olympics.
MUNICH 1972: Olympic Posters is on display at The Walker until January 2013. Emma Sumner will be giving talks on the art works at 11am and 1pm on Friday, August 3 and Tuesday, August 7.