As part of the 150 years of the London Underground celebrations, the London Transport Museum is displaying 150 of the best Underground posters. The posters cover over 100 years of history and revel in the delights of bold graphics and cover many different styles.
UPDATE: By popular demand London Transport Museum's blockbuster exhibition Poster Art 150 – London Underground's Greatest Designs has been extended until 5 January 2014.
Some posters are recent and recognizable as they can be seen at stations right now. Others were designed by famous artists but the focus of the exhibition is on the posters and not the artists.
The last major Underground poster retrospective was in 1963 to celebrate the centenary of the Underground so this exhibition is well-timed. I do wonder how many of the posters chosen for this latest exhibition were also displayed 50 years ago.
Rather than a chronological order, the posters are instead grouped into six themes. Colored lines on the floors divide the different themes. (It was suggested by one visitor that these were a bit like the floor lines to guide you around an IKEA store but, of course, these are more stylish as they use the Underground line colors.)
Finding Your Way – here you'll find maps, etiquette and passenger reassurance. I loved the weather-themed posters calling out "It is warmer below", "Keep warm" to encourage travelers to head Underground instead of using buses. There is also the earliest poster in the collection which dates back to 1886 and displays fare information.
The subtle humor of the etiquette posters are still valid today with guidance such as 'Have your ticket ready' and 'stand on the right' – all advising politely.
Brightest London – this is the glamour and entertainment, encouraging nights out for sporting events, the theater and going shopping in the sales.
Capital Culture – these are the cultural gems such as galleries and London Zoo.
Away From It All – these posters are promoting freedom and escapes to the country. Many have a romantic, colorful and optimistic message about how the Underground could whisk you away from the dirty city to the fresh air of pastoral locations such as Hampstead and Epping. It was a drive to boost off-peak ticket sales and to show how the Underground could be used for family days out and not just commuting.
Keeps London Going – these are about reliability and speed with impressive statistics shown in graphics.
Love Your City – these are London landmarks and what makes London great and recognizable across the world.
How the Posters Were Selected
The museum has 7,000 posters in its collection and 3,300 are from the Underground. Staff managed to choose 400 and then it was over to a panel of experts to select the 150 which are on display.
Vote for Your Favorite
There are three ways to vote for your favorite poster. There are QR codes on all the poster captions which can be used for voting. There's a touch screen at the end to place your vote or you can do it online at: www.ltmuseum.co.uk. The most popular poster will be revealed at the end of the exhibition.
The exhibition is on two floors and there is a spiral staircase to go down to the lower level.
Many visitors, and Museum staff, commented on the variety of sizes of the posters as we had expected some iconic images to be large and found real gems in the smaller posters. The size was simply because of where they were designed to be displayed. It was interesting to see 'pair posters' (literally two posters that need to be displayed together) which were intended for prime Underground sites such as station entrances.
As you would hope, you can see Harry Beck's diagrammatic map of the Underground network from 1933 which changed the design of the map to the way we now know it and not as a geographical representation.
The 1920s and 1930s were the heyday for Underground posters and many of the posters do not seem like transport advertising but are promoting destinations which, of course, could be reached by the Underground network.
While visiting the exhibition do go across the high walkway to the Poster Parade showing the posters created by Royal College of Arts students when given the brief to design a poster for 2063, when the London Underground will be celebrating its 200th anniversary.
Address: London Transport Museum, Covent Garden Piazza, London WC2E 7BB
Official Website: www.ltmuseum.co.uk
Cost: No extra charge to see the exhibition. Tickets to visit the London Transport Museum are £15 for an adult and free for under 16s.
Dates: 15 February 2013 – 5 January 2014.