The ITF Internationale Tentoonstelling op Filmgebied (International film exhibition) poster is unusual advertisement. The subject of the poster - an educational exhibition on the history of film, new technologies, screening (all film types including the avant-garde) and all other facets to the world of film – is reflected in the poster’s execution. The focus on the new medium of film and Piet Zwart’s exposure to the new techniques of photography and text explain why the poster stylistically appears as it does, and why he chose to compose the poster the way he did.
Piet Zwart rejected aligning himself with any particular group or aesthetic throughout the entirety of his career. However, he was largely influenced by El Lissitzky and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who set the foundation for the aesthetic of the modern poster. El Lissitzky was one of several avant-garde artists who popularized a type of cameraless photography sometimes called “photograms,” in which objects are laid on photosensitive paper to leave a negative image, and could incorporate text. Zwart used this technique until 1926 when Moholy-Nagy’s book Malerei, Photographie, Film, was published. The book treats word and image as they would in film. It substantiated how the unity between typography and photography could together make a “cinematic whole.”
Zwart was not only inspired by the idea of film, he was also a self-proclaimed film enthusiast. In 1926, just two years before the film exhibition, he joined an experimental theater association in the Hague called Wij Nu (Us Now). This led him to organize the International Film Exhibition with the objective of rousing interest in “the new medium.” Not only did he design the poster and the program, but largely the entire presentation: including the building’s entrance and interiors.
The execution of the poster is done in the Dutch Modern style, but what is arguably the crux of the advertisement, is the juxtaposition of the word “FILM,” the eye, and the filmstrip. Zwart uses photography and typography to hint at the educational undertone of the festival, but also more importantly to create a representation of visual verbal wit, which on one hand is a true story about the exhibition, and on the other, is “passing into imaginary spheres.”
The poster tries to appeal to the masses, but also it is clear that Zwart sides with the style of film that was not trying to appeal to the masses. This inherently makes the poster an advertisement that is apropos to the twentieth century, where design is at the mercy of advertising, publicity, and some would say ignorance. Though that is only one side of the story. Zwart harnesses the pawns in graphic design to position a message for rapid transmission. His twentieth century speed and functionalism can artistically move around the need for graphic design to: “follow from compression of society and its corollary demand for mass communication.”
Gabrielle Golenda is a graduate student at Parsons the New School for Design in the History of Decorative Arts and Design program, focusing on film and modern design. She has previously worked in fashion as a stylist assistant and in PR at Tom Ford.
Kees Broos and Paul Hefting, Dutch Graphic Design: A Century (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997), 82.
 Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Painting, Photography, Film (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1967), 36.
 Arthur Cohen, Piet Zwart: Typotekt (New York: Ex Libris, 1980), 1.