The American modernist posters to be offered in our November sale provide a fascinating insight into American history, politics and culture in the 20th century. The work of exceptional graphic designers such as Beall and Rand show the influence of the European avant-garde, in particular Constructivism and the Bauhaus, yet these posters remain innately and unmistakably American.
The Rural Electrification Act of 1935 was established as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The scheme provided funding to develop electrical power throughout rural areas of the United States, in the hope that the advancing infrastructure would raise living standards and promote higher employment rates during the Great Depression.
This rare poster (lot 175, below) by the great American graphic artist Lester Beall (1903–1969) was one of many works commissioned by the Rural Electrification Administration, whose role it was to communicate change to rural communities affected by ongoing advancements. Drawing on the bold dynamism of the European avant-gardes, Beall creates a striking and integrated composition that brings together geometric stripes in red, white and blue echoing the American flag, with photomontage representing content rural communities as they look towards their future in the mechanical age.
Paul Rand (1914–1966) remains among the most highly regarded and influential American graphic designers of all time. In this instantly recognisable work, Eye-Bee-M (IBM), Rand puts into practice a firm understanding of corporate identity and design, and affirms his own belief that in order for a logo to be successful it must be ‘designed with the utmost simplicity and restraint’.
Eye-Bee-M (lot 174, above) was designed by Rand in 1981 to accompany and promote IBM’s new company slogan, THINK. In line with the motto, the poster takes the form of a puzzle, specifically a rebus puzzle, which substitutes words for simple imagery and encourages the viewer to engage with and decipher its content. Through the considered minimalism of his design and its instant recognisability, Rand underlines IBM’s long standing belief that ‘Good Design is Good Business’ (Thomas Watson Jr., IBM, Chief Executive Officer 1951–1972).