The Underground Art Scene

The Underground Art Scene

The Underground Art Scene

Slate's guide to consuming culture.
July 9 2010 1:01 PM

The Underground Art Scene

We take for granted that advertorial posters can and should be beautifully designed triumphs of graphic art, but it wasn’t always so: Artists didn’t really turn their eye to the mass-produced form until the late 19 th century, and Europe was where the movement particularly took off. Art for All: British Posters for Transport , a coffee-table-book version of a Yale Center exhibition of the same name, catalogs London Underground- and British Railway-commissioned posters, mostly from between the world wars, a period and place of particular flowering for this sort of public design. There’s plenty of detailed history to be found here—the Underground’s influential ad campaign was spearheaded by a former solicitor named Frank Pick, a bureaucrat who ended up being responsible for launching the careers of many artists as a side effect of his successful advertising push. (The most famous of the group to come out of the transport poster movement was the American-born Edward McKnight Kauffer .) But the real fun is to be had in paging through the reproductions of the mostly modernist posters, many of which advertised for particular places that could be gotten to via train or subway—Kew Gardens, Epping Forest, Picadilly Circus. Some have become iconic images, like the Jolly Fisherman of Skegness , while others, like Fred Taylor’s woman with balloons, " By Tram From Hammersmith, Wimbledon or Shephard’s Bush ," deserve to be.

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Noreen Malone is a senior editor at New York magazine.