The Writing Was on the Wall

"The future of your children is in your hands, and the future is in Hebrew goods"; "Shoulder to shoulder, go to work"; "The whole country is a front, the whole nation is the army"; and also "Gal laundry detergent, cleans effortlessly," are just some of the slogans on the posters in "Tziyunei Derech" (signposts), a poster exhibition opening today (meanwhile for groups only) at Beit Yehoshua.

The exhibition is based on the collection of Zionut 2000, a movement for social change established in 1995 after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, by a group led by businessman Ronny Douek.

It features 100 posters printed from 1930-1960 from the collection that Douek started in 1996, with the help of designer David Tartkover. Apart from the beautiful graphic design, Douek finds a certain magic in the posters because they reflect "ideology, values, nationalism, naivety and also the experience and emotion of a charmed period, of mobilizing for national goals such as absorbing immigrants, promoting agriculture and industry, and more."

When the number of posters in the collection reached 100, Douek suggested that Inbal Amit catalog the collection, and afterward they decided to create the exhibition.

At first, they wanted to show 60 posters in honor of the state's 60 years of independence, but they had a hard time deciding which posters to use, and the number rose. "The first stage was visual," says Amit. "We chose what drew our attention. Later on Nava Schreiber, who has experience in curating historical exhibitions, entered the picture as a historical consultant, and she helped us sort things out."

Unlike the usual practice, the posters in the exhibition are not arranged chronologically or according to subjects, but based on graphic motifs: buildings, flags, furrows, ships, consumer products and others.

Among those who made the posters are the leading designers and artists of the period, such as Naftali Bazam, Yohanan Simon, Paul Kor, the brothers Gabriel and Maxim Shamir, and more.

The designers of the exhibition, Ami Derech and Dov Ganchrow, were careful to take a minimalist approach in their work, and included in the exhibition references to the graphic motifs. The posters advertising consumer products, for example, are placed on shelves as if they were products in a supermarket, and next to posters of tools, the two chose to hang tools.

In an introductory article in the catalog, Schreiber notes that until the early 1920s, the use of posters for advertising purposes was not common in the communities of the land of Israel. However, after the Nazis' ascension to power, a wave of immigrants arrived here which led to economic, social and cultural flourishing, in part because the immigrants included graphic designers and artists.

The new Bezalel Academy opened in 1935 which included a graphics department, whose teachers renewed Hebrew typography, and developed improved means of production that made it possible to produce high quality print.

The images they used drew from Western modernism and not, as was the practice then, from Jewish tradition, and with patriotic fervor they created images and symbols that turned into the backbone of Zionist culture.

The complete identification with Zionist ideology, and with the state, in those years also influenced the style and content of the posters. Someone who is not well versed in the history may wonder whether these are posters in the service of a totalitarian state mobilizing the masses on its behalf, and whether the nostalgic feelings they evoke don't have something fake or overly naive about them.

"There is something here that emerged from a personal taste," responds Douek, "but what drew me more than anything else was the call to mobilize, the desire to develop and strengthen the Yishuv and reduce the social gaps. I think that even today the same spirit of mobilization is needed. Clearly there is something naive about this nostalgia, and clearly also in the good old days not everything was so great. Some of the posters have motifs and slogans that verge on fascism, but I think that you can't forget that it would have been impossible to establish the state without all of this naivety."

Schreiber: "There is no pretense in the exhibition. It is not didactic and does not try to flatter anyone. You can look at it from many angles, consider the graphic motifs, and compare the countries of origin of the artists. The exhibition catalog, on the other hand, tries to make some order as far as the subject matter goes. It follows the changes in chronological order, both in terms of the graphics and the messages relayed through the posters from posters encouraging enlistment in the British army during World War II - featuring a soldier charging into battle with blue Star of David around his arm - to ads for cleaning products that appealed to the urban woman and appeared in the 1950s when urban bourgeoisie established itself."

Douek hopes to eventually find a permanent home for the exhibition while continuing to work on expanding it, even though there haven't been many posters produced in the last few decades.

"When I started collecting posters, only a few people thought they had any value," said Douek. "Who even thought there was a point in collecting things that are less than a thousand years old? My car has a bumper sticker that says 'Sderot is here.' In the past there were posters, today everything is summed up on a sticker in three or four words."

Initially, the exhibition will be open to groups, but toward the end of the summer it is scheduled to open to the general public. After that, the exhibition will travel to Detroit, whose Jewish community is sponsoring the exhibition.

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