A new exhibition at the Hungarian National Museum displays a selection of posters from 100 years of Hungary’s past. The items collated from the museum’s archive of some 45,000 posters evolve around a common theme: crowds. The show aims to present how commercial and political propaganda are designed to attract attention, influencing and inspiring the masses. Between June 14th and August 25th, you can take a sneak peak into the times of revolution, war and life behind the Iron Curtain.
A few seconds is all that a poster needs to catch your attention and fufil its purpose, whether to sell, invite, inform or urge. Designs have to be colourful, simple and informative – a poster requires serious creativity. Some are true works of art.
Displayed in three rooms on the first floor of the National Museum, the posters of a bygone era are arranged in three categories – all complete with English documentation. The first room focuses on economic and commercial posters. The first here dates back to 1896, during Hungary's golden era. It was a time of development, population growth and industrial output. Mass production and wholesale trade needed new brands and products that had to be constantly promoted in order to be engraved in the public mind. Some are still around today.
World War I brought an end to this prosperity. Under the weight of a new social and economical crisis, mass production was now the priority, and advertisements were aimed to influence the senses and arouse temptation.
After World War II, nationalisation and collectivisation characterised the new social system. Commercial posters became less important as class struggle replaced competition. Production and commerce could not avoid supervision, evident in many posters here.
From around 1968, centralised control was loosened and there was more entrepreneurial freedom, albeit supervised by the State. Foreign trade was allowed, which resulted in a competitive market that is apparent on bold, colourful posters.
The second room focuses on posters popularising entertainment and leisure, with a special focus on the country’s prime holiday destination, Lake Balaton. Mass employment in industry created a new order of weekdays and holidays for the masses, so the promotion of sport and pastimes blossomed. However, these posters not only meant to recruit people for events, but also to make sure people would spend their free time in an organised, transparent and disciplined manner.
Modern society created a need for mass sport, while a major achievement of the industrial revolution, railways, enabled long-distance transport. Tourism was created. Holidays could be advertised. Besides domestic tourism, posters also promoted Hungary’s attractive image to increase foreign tourism. Artistic pleasure was no longer a privilege of the elite but a form of entertainment, people becoming consumers of literature, theatre and art, so posters dealing with culture comprised about 65% of all being produced. This genre gave more freedom to artists, who could avoid the strict confines of each commission and instead express their own ideas more freely. In this room, a smaller part of the compilation displays original theatre and cinema posters, with more projected in chronological order.
The third room is dedicated to politics and propaganda; announcements, billboards and posters of political and social public discourse. The scope of this display is narrowed to a small selection, only focusing on the 20th century, and the struggle for universal suffrage. Mihály Bíró’s Shovelling Death from 1912 became a symbol of protest against world war, only two years away. The exhibition ends with 1989 and the Regime Change, when Socialism ended.
Thanks to modern technology, posters have since changed radically. Today’s society is more a loose network of small communities and consumer groups, so reaching out to the masses is less important, as information is more personalised and spreads via message boards. This is what makes this exhibition especially interesting, as it guards a colourful piece of the past.