“Beauty is in the street”
As the annus horribilis of 2016 draws to a close, my mind tilts towards predecessors of resistance. It is easy to focus on what cannot be done. Much more important to consider what can be done.
In May 1968 Paris was brought to a standstill thanks to widespread protests against the unemployment and poverty under Charles de Gaulle’s conservative government. The situation got so bad that even De Gaulle had to flee the country briefly. 1968 was a year of violence and resistance in the U.S. and Europe alike—in Europe the year has taken on iconic significance for the generation that took part in a way that never quite happened on the other side of the Atlantic.
The uprisings of Paris 1968 were notable for extremely fine examples of polemical poster art. The Atelier Populaire, run by Marxist artists and art students, occupied the École des Beaux-Arts and dedicated its efforts to producing thousands of silk-screened posters using bold, iconic imagery and slogans as well as explicitly collective/anonymous authorship. Most of the posters were printed on newssheet using a single color with basic icons such as the factory to represent labor and a fist to stand for resistance.
As MessyNessy astutely observed earlier this year, the posters had something of the iconic power of Saul Bass’ notable output.
The Atelier Populaire
In 2008 the Hayward Gallery in London mounted an exhibition under the title “May 68: Street Posters from the Paris Rebellion”. Its curator, Johan Kugelberg, made the following statement in an interview:
There was no formal organisation behind this uprising. It was everyday people who had been pushed too far, showing a solidarity that jumped the shackles of class, age and education. The kind of revolution of everyday life leading to a societal dialogue where people truly functioned as a collective brain, pulse and heart. There seems to be evidence here of the making of an ultra-potent antidote to the extremely scary fragmented, cubicled and computer-screened hyper-individualism of today. Your blog won’t change anything. Your Facebook potentially could, but only if you add to it by meeting and communicating face-to-face with people from walks of life very different to yours.
Sobering words, in the era of fake news.
Is there a U.S. analogue to these posters? The work of Emory Douglas, Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party, is the closest comparison I can think of. The images on this page and many more can be seen at the Bibliothèque nationale de France website. Three years after the Hayward Gallery show, Kugelberg published a definitive collection of the Paris 1968 posters under the title Beauty Is in the Street: A Visual Record of the May 68 Uprising.
From British Pathé, a report on the Paris disruptions as they were happening:
A terrifying image of state control
“The struggle continues”
“Return to normal”
“Popular power” (the pillars represent the parties in Parliament)
“We are the power”
“They are intoxicating you!”
“Be young and shut up”—the silhouette represents De Gaulle
“The police post themselves at the School of Fine Arts—the Fine Arts students poster the streets”
“To vote is to die a little”
“A youth disturbed too often by the future”
“Light wages—heavy tanks”
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘The Art of the Black Panthers’: Revolutionary designer Emory Douglas