Feature: Olympic Art
I can’t be the only one who finds the “London together for 2012” vibe faintly nauseating
Like everything else bearing the London 2012 logo, the posters for this summer’s Olympic games were popularly poo-poo’ed before the paint had time to dry and the cheques were cashed. With contributions by the likes of Tracey Emin, Bridget Riley, and Chris Ofili, the qualm that most designers have with the pieces, it seems, is more a question of form than anything else. Creative Review have disputed the works’ status as ‘posters’, a label which turns them into commercial products with a message to “sell”. ‘I can admire and respect them as works of art,’ wrote one commentator, ‘but I cannot see how they work as posters for the Olympics.’
True, as heavyweight names, some of the artists have undoubtedly created works that put the artist before any London 2012 design brief, self-referentially returning to the idiosyncratic working styles for which people know them best. Bridget Riley’s ‘Rose Rose’, for example, requires no signature, while without the London 2012 logo it would be just another Bridget Riley. But does “The Greatest Show on Earth” (Boris) really need a poster in the traditional sense? Location, date, ticket price and a helpful London map in the corner? Probably not. I can’t be the only one who finds the “London together for 2012” vibe faintly nauseating. Much better to have the Olympics as a non-committal springboard, and see what the artists come up with.
all the pieces range dramatically in quality: ‘Love’ by Patrick Brill, for example, appears more as an invite to a Disney-themed 10th birthday party
What they have come up with, thanks to the lack of marketing design brief, is often brilliant, even if the CR can’t quite bring itself to admit it. It’s diverse and eye-catching too, as Howard Hodgkin’s piece ‘Swimming’ illustrates, its attention-seeking brush strokes effortlessly conveying movement while winning you over with its playful simplicity.
Inevitably, the pieces also range dramatically in quality, the nauseating ‘Love’ by Patrick Brill (aka Bob and Roberta Smith) appearing more as an invite to a Disney-themed 10th birthday party – only perhaps with less substance. Embittered design agencies have been quick to parody the official posters, with Bob and Roberta Smith’s being the target of Andy Mac’s ‘Mwah! Mwah!’ which efficiently conveys the fluff of the original and the superficiality of what will essentially be the biggest meet and greet on Earth. Meanwhile, Bridget Riley’s stripes easily become the bloated shirt of a mayoral office fat cat in Rufus Spiller’s ‘Rennie Rennie’. In one crucial sense the parodies succeed where the originals fail: in displaying England as it truly is, in all its deflated, cynical glory.
Most interestingly, however, the commissioning of fine artists over graphic designers has resulted in works which reconfigure what “the poster” is and does. Although characteristically self-absorbed, Tracey Emin’s ‘Birds 2012′ turns the brash publicity poster into an intimate love letter. An expression of frailty, dependence and devotion becomes the unlikely responses to fierce Olympic competitiveness here through the haiku’s deeply personal and yet universal sentiment, the scrawled freehand lettering, and the slight, understated illustration. Generous, heartful and introverted – no wonder the advertising industry hates it.