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Underground Gallery: London Transport Posters 1920s-1940s at MoMA
Abram Games (British, 1914-1996). London Transport at London's Service. 1949. Offset lithograph, 39 1/2 x 24 3/4" (100.3 x 62.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the designer.
NEW YORK, NY.- After World War I, striking modern posters began to transform the stations of London’s Underground, the first subterranean railway system in the world. These posters were the crucial face of a pioneering public transport campaign for coherence and efficiency that also included station architecture, signage and timetables, buses and bus stops, train interiors, upholstery, and even public trash bins. The program is still recognized as a landmark in corporate design.

The principal figure in this famous campaign was Frank Pick (1878–1941), who joined the Underground Group as an assistant in 1906 and became managing director of the newly formed London Passenger Transport Board in 1933. Pick commissioned Edward Johnston to design the system’s distinctive typeface—Johnston Sans (1916)—and roundel logo (1918), Charles Holden to design station architecture (from 1925), and Harry Beck to design the iconic Underground map (1931–33). At a time when British design was largely unregulated, Pick established a standard in design management that would serve as a beacon for quality and progressive innovation. In 1942 he was acclaimed by historian Nikolaus Pevsner as "the ideal patron of our age."

The Underground stations were hung with changing series of posters by some of the most significant artists of the time, including Edward McKnight-Kauffer, László Moholy-Nagy, Zero (Hans Schleger), Edward Bawden, and Abram Games. The result was a network of "poor man’s picture galleries." These posters from collection of The Museum of Modern Art speak to the experience of modern London—from culture and entertainment to the anxieties of daily life in wartime. In the so-called Golden Age of London Transport graphics, in the 1920s–30s, production exceeded forty posters per year promoting urban attractions, regulating congestion, encouraging visits to the country, and celebrating the modernity of the transport system itself. During World War II they explained new procedures related to blackouts and air raids. About the posters, one British newspaper reported in 1951, "An excellent show they make, covering many facets, both grim and gay, of the British way of life."

The exhibition is organized by Juliet Kinchin, Curator, and Aidan O’Connor, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design.

New York | "Underground Gallery" | Juliet Kinchin | MoMA |


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