Just left of center in the contiguous United States, at 5,000 feet above sea level, nestled amongst the foothills of the majestic Rocky Mountains with a population of nearly 150,000, lies Fort Collins, Colorado. Some might think this an unlikely locale to convene the work of the world's great poster designers, yet that’s exactly what happens every two years in this university town. Colorado State University hosts this biennial event, now in its 32nd year.
The 17th Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition (CIIPE) is not only a mouthful to say, it’s also an eyeful to see; last September, the exhibition featured the work of 90 artists from 33 countries.
A poster, by definition, is a placard or bill intended for posting in a public space, as for advertising. The posters included in the 17th CIIPE communicate social and political justice, cultural and environmental concerns; they are poetic, graphic advertisements for some of the world’s most pressing issues: world hunger, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, free speech, last year’s devastating tsunami in Japan.
As with most things, there is another side to CIIPE, a yin to the somewhat overwhelming yang of the issues just described. That balance, the cultural and arts organizations—museums and galleries, dance and theater productions, music and film festivals—made a strong showing at the exhibition. In all, as was the goal of CIIPE when it was founded in 1979, the posters in the 17th CIIPE shine the light on visual communication design as a means of stimulating discourse through the graphic arts.
As with every exhibition, an honor laureate is chosen. The recipient is an artist with a command of, and a long history of working in, the poster medium. For this biennial, it was designer Leonardo Sonnoli, a partner in Tassinari/Vetta, a design firm in Trieste, Italy, and longtime participant in the CIIPE program. When asked about his criteria for choosing the three award-winning posters, Sonnoli replied, “After I judged the posters, thinking about my choices, I realized that I preferred those corresponding to my idea of how to design a poster, even if in a different ‘style.’ The Italian word for poster is ‘manifesto,’ and [it’s] in this ambiguous definition that I find the meaning of a straight, essential, way to communicate. Designing a poster should always use a minimum of elements for maximum visual power and information.”
Of the award winners, Sonnoli said, “David Tartakover is always strong and powerful, not only visually, but with content that is never banal or coarse; Rebeca Mendez is a pleasant discovery. I didn’t know her poetic and inspiring work, which is visually very simple and complex at the same time; and Shigeo Okamoto makes poems in the form of pictures, working in a masterly way with materials.”
Since the judging was done remotely last May, it was interesting to observe Sonnoli’s reaction to the posters when he traveled to Fort Collins in the fall. “My impressions about the majority of the posters didn't change [when] seeing the actual copies,” he stated. “Nevertheless, in a few cases, I understood I was wrong judging, both in a good or bad way.” Sonnoli went on to explain, “It’s quite banal to say that a poster is a design object, and therefore size and materials matter in visually translating a good idea. In recent years, more and more poster contests admit digital printing. Nothing against the digital printing technology, but in all cases it’s used because it’s cheaper to print a few copies and not for its quality. Mainly these posters are flat, without soul. On the contrary, good printing quality (paper, spot colors, etc.) is hard to understand when viewing a PDF on a screen. Digital printing, as all production techniques, should be used for its own features, and not because it’s cheaper than offset.”
The honor laureate concluded, “The three winners, together with the honorable mentions, provide an imaginary tour of excellence in visual design: From Israel to Turkey, up to Russia passing through Iran, from Japan to the ‘Mexican’ Los Angeles, there are no boundaries in visual sensitivity, maybe only in the national matters stimulating it, as there is also no need to be young to produce something new.” ca
Editor’s note: Due to limited space, the following is a selection of work from the 17th CIIPE. Visit lib.colostate.edu/posters to see the entire exhibition.