The title contains an obvious irony: the posters on the London Underground have always been an excellent example of public art, free and accessible to the lumpen proletariat who, as art critic Anthony Blunt pointed out, "are lured into liking the poster before they realise that it is just the kind of thing which they loathe in the exhibition gallery
" Sugaring the medicine came to be a defining characteristic of Underground advertising, the pictorial history of which is traced in this excellent volume, from its beginnings in 1908 until 1989. The selection is made by Oliver Green, the first curator of the London Transport Museum, whose love of his subject irrigates the potentially dry textuality of his admirably brief introduction. Green shows how the advertising focus quickly shifted from the mode of transport to the destination in a bid to capture the lucrative leisure hours of Londoners, and how there was also a desire to simply establish goodwill, a concept baffling to a modern business sensibility inured to the idea of profit uber alles
The posters were the brainchild of Frank Pick, a "benevolent style dictator", responsible for establishing the corporate identity still used by London Underground today. Over 200 of them are reproduced here in colour, embracing a diversity of styles including Cubism, Modernism, Vorticism and Futurism, and inviting us to all corners of the metropolis and its surrounds, but most commonly London Zoo (which of course is nowhere near a tube). Well-known artists such as Man Ray and Graham Sutherland contributed designs, as did a to-be-well-known spy novelist Len Deighton, but the stars were artists such as Edward McKnight Kauffer, whose work over many years showed an unsurpassed understanding of the medium. The most recognisable design, though, was Henry C. Beck's diagrammatic map of the tube network, introduced in 1933 and still iconically ubiquitous today. It is a pity Green does not reproduce it to a greater scale (likewise its interesting geographically faithful antecedent), but that is not enough to detract from what is a highly pleasurable travelcard-of- a-trip down memory lane, and a valuable piece of social history.--David Vincent
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Oliver Green was the first curator of the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden, and is the author of several books on London Transport, including Designed for London. He is currently Head of Museum Services for Buckinghamshire County Council.