In 1966, the Federal Republic of Germany, commonly known as West Germany, won the bid to host the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich. It was Germany’s first time hosting the event since 1936. Conceptions of a visual design program that would overturn prevailing associations of West Germany with the Nazi regime and present a new image of the young nation to the international community began immediately. The abstract style, bright colors, legible typeface, and pictographic symbols of the posters and other visual materials produced for the Games presented West Germany as a modern, democratic nation.
In the midst of Cold War politics, civil rights movements, tensions in the Middle East, and other sociopolitical unrest, the organizers of the Munich Games attempted to make the event one of not just competition but also cheer and unity. Ultimately, however, a terrorist attack on the Israeli Olympic team that took place in the middle of the Games ruptured the atmosphere of happiness, inclusivity, and peace and undermined the motto, Die heiteren Spiele (The Happy Games). Focusing on the graphic materials produced prior to the attack, this exhibition explores the roots of the Munich Olympic design aesthetic, shedding light on its underlying politics and some of the complexities of visual materials made to serve as both art and propaganda.
More broadly, this exhibition, organized (and postponed) in tandem with the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, aims to draw attention to the correspondences between sports, art, and politics. It also speaks to the ongoing role of the graphic arts in constructing influential national narratives.
Organized by guest curator Elissa Watters, MA ’18, with Kevin Murphy, the Eugénie Prendergast Senior Curator of American and European Art