"100 years of Muba: an eye-catching journey through time": Poster walk in Basel now open

Published on 3/2/2016 by Christoph Spangenberg

Fifty posters of art-historical value right in the heart of Basel: The exhibition "100 Jahre Muba: eine plakative Zeitreise" (100 years of Muba: an eye-catching journey through time) officially opened today. Between Badischer Bahnhof and Bankverein, it displays highlights from the time since the Sample Fair was first created in 1916. In an interview, Kurt Würmli, curator of the poster collection at the Basel College of Design who has created the exhibition with the MCH Group for its 100th anniversary, explains what makes the Muba posters so special and why they could soon be awarded Unesco cultural heritage status.

Kurt Würmli

Mr. Würmli, what precisely awaits the visitors to this exhibition?

We are celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the Sample Fair by showing the posters that it has used to advertise itself right from the very outset. Over a pedestrian route from Kleinbasel to Grossbasel, a total of 50 posters by 32 designers have been hung up accompanied by a short text. The observer thus has access to the poster and to its designer - in many cases, eminent artists like Birkhäuser, Brun, Eidenbenz and Leupin. A QR code is provided which links up to a great deal more interesting information on the posters and designers on the anniversary website. The texts have been compiled by art historian Fabian Frei who has spoken with still living artists and descendants for the exhibition.

With the exhibition we are putting our cultural heritage on display, celebrating the posters and their design. It is an exhibition for the city and its visitors. The posters might even be awarded Unesco world heritage status soon: In the course of this year still, Unesco will be deciding whether Switzerland's graphic art can be listed as intangible cultural heritage. For us as the poster collection unit, it is wonderful to be able to stage something in the public arena to supplement our exhibitions in Spalenvorstadt.

What is so special about these 50 posters?

We even had more than 70 delightful posters, but there was also the question of the rights to digitise and exhibit them. Once this question had been clarified, we still had more than 50 posters. We then made our selection on a purely curatorial basis: What are the contents? What is the style? Can we depict the 100 years on a representative basis with them? Our poster collection is 120 years old. A large number of the posters were already in our possession, because they are important for the city of Basel, the local region and the graphic art produced there. We were then able to put on this exhibition together with the MCH Group archive. We provide a historical look back, with the focus on the years 1916 to 1990. We have even included all 100 posters since 1916 in the display on the internet. Nowhere else, to the best of my knowledge, have so many different artists worked for a company for such a long time. I think that is unique.

A poster is, after all, far more than just an announcement...

Yes, the posters don't only say something about graphic art in Basel but also about the Sample Fair: how does it present itself in public, which posters does it choose?  Right up until late in the 20th century the Sample Fair organised a competition for the posters. And the posters also say something about those who designed them, of course. On some posters, the graphic artist makes more of an impact than the fair – just take a look at the poster by Peter Birkhäuser for 1951. Then the posters also reflect social topics. Between 1935 and 1945, for instance, we find iconographic traits that can be associated with warmongering.

Have you a favourite amongst the Swiss Sample Fair posters?

Well, the question is what goes to make up a good poster? A poster is highly complex, like a play for the theatre.  I like the poster by Hans Falk from 1949. It shows a painted worker, it's not typical. I also particularly like the chronographic posters like the one by Herbert Leupin.

What have been the most striking developments in the 100-year poster history of the Swiss Sample Fair?

The most important one is probably the change in the graphic art techniques that came about towards the end of the mid-20th century. While everything had been done by hand up until then, new techniques emerged, such as screen printing, offset printing and photography. The new technology also gave rise to changes in the content, since design is always part of the content.

You doubtless experienced a number of surprises in the course of your work?

Yes, a large number! We did not have a bibliography at that point and thus had to conduct intensive research. In so doing, we learned particularly delightful things about the artists, including about their private lives. It's amazing how these people lived. One example is the artist and designer Karl Bickel, who dreamed up and created the "Paxmal" on the Schrina-Hochbrugg above Walenstadt.

Back to the exhibition in Basel: Do the posters have any connections with the point at which they are displayed?

At the "Clarakirche", there are four posters that belong together in design terms. They also all show the Swiss cross, which could be considered as a reference to the church's cross. A number of  iconographic posters are hanging on the City Hall, which is, after all, an icon itself. Five posters are affixed to the "Circular Courtyard" hall at Messe Basel. Their shared focal theme is a round layered arrangement and the assimilation of items. The general rule is: If there are a number of posters together, they expand the statement. They either enrich or contradict each other.

The poster exhibition is on display until 25 April 2016 still in the public arena between Badischer Bahnhof and Bankverein. The details and more than 100 Muba posters, including the highlight posters with a commentary may be found at www.100jahrezukunft.ch/posterexhibition.
The RappazMuseum is staging a parallel exhibition of poster drafts, plans, photographs, film material and more under the title "Basel graphic art for Muba".

Guided tours and events:

  • 4 March 2016, meeting point 17:00 at McDonald's opposite Badischer Bahnhof. Free of charge, no registration required. Afterwards, at 18:00, the opening of the poster exhibition and the parallel exhibition of "Basel graphic art for Muba" in the RappazMuseum, Klingental 11, 4058 Basel
  • 25 April 2016, meeting point 17:00 at the Tinguely fountain by the theatre. Free of charge, no registration required. Afterwards, at 18:00, the closing of the exhibition in the RappazMuseum
Christoph Spangenberg

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