Monday, September 10, 2007

Poster Art in Wales

Between 1967-8 the Welsh Committee of the Arts Council decided to take art to the people. They wanted to liberate it from the hallowed environs of museums and galleries and put it out there on the streets.

They did this by hiring approximately 250 advertising hoardings all over Wales upon which they placed specially commissioned silk-screen prints. The participating artists, who all had some association with Wales, included Op-Artist Jeffrey Steele, Terry Setch, Eric Malthouse and Allen Jones.

What seems odd in retrospect is that there was no pre-publicity or ad campaign to go with the public exhibition - they just did it. The posters suddenly sprang up in urban, industrial and rural settings across Wales completely without explanation or fanfare.

The artworks were often adjacent to regular large-scale adverts and in a sense had to compete with them for attention. The whole campaign lasted at least six months and must have been pretty expensive. It was though deemed a success in that interest was generated amongst the public.

The poster which caused the most reaction was unsurprisingly a work (entitled Legs) by controversial pop artist Allen Jones. His eroticised female legs surrounded by floating discs on a lurid yellow and green background certainly caught the eye.

So what to make of this whole exercise? I suppose there are two ways of reading it. On one hand it can be seen as a laudable egalitarian attempt to democratise art, very much in keeping with a late '60s zeitgeist. On the other it might be perceived as a wholesale attempt to educate an unsophisticated Welsh public in the ways of contemporary art. You decide.

What I'd really like to know is what happened to the posters themselves? Were they carefully peeled off and stored away somewhere? Were they unceremoniously scraped away? Or were they just covered over by advertisements? If you see a giant-sized 1968 Allen Jones poster for sale on ebay you'll know exactly where it came from.

*One of the Allen Jones multiples was presented to the Tate Gallery by the Welsh Arts Council in 1975 (see pic).