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Boring Danish election posters used to be real works of art

With a Danish election coming soon, a political scientist hopes that his book will give new life to an old art form

[See the series of posters below this article.]

In the past the Danish election poster was a piece of art. Today it is often like a dull advertisement. This is according to professor Peter Nedergaard, Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen, and co-author of a new book about the Danish election poster’s history and development.

”In the past election posters were often small pieces of art appealing to the electors’ emotions. Today most of the posters are stereotyped, predictable and without humour giving a glorified portrait of the politician, a letter of the alphabet representing the political party and an election cross,” says Professor Peter Nedergaard, political scientist at the Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen (UCPH).

Together with his co-author Elsebeth Aasted Schantz, director of the Danish Poster Museum, he published the book ”Valget er dit! – den danske valgplakat i 100 år” (The choice is yours! – the Danish election poster during 100 years). The authors present 100 noticeable Danish election posters from the parliamentary and country-wide elections from 1918 to 2011. The book was published on April 17 and is the first analysis, which looks at political election posters over time.

Poster with an eye for the details

The posters reflect a considerable development in form, language, and techniques. During the election poster’s golden age from 1920 to approximately 1960 the posters were often created by professional poster painters or artists such as Aage Sikker Hansen, Arne Ungermann and Asger Jorn.

Peter Nedergaard’s personal favourite is a poster by Thor Bøgelund for the Conservative Party at the parliamentary election in 1932. The poster is an example from the book and he values it due to a beautiful design in colours, the golden cut, a completely encompassing argument and the detail with the dial, which shows 12:20 and thus emphasises the text’s point that unemployment worsens by one person every 20 minutes.

Information to the citizens

According to Peter Nedergaard the posters up to 1960 were not just beautiful and funny; they had an important and different function compared to contemporary posters.

”The media scene was totally different and mainly in the form of newspapers. Therefore, the posters had a different status; they were the political parties’ information to the citizens. It is obvious that the posters’ influence on the media scene started to decline when television emerged in the 1960s. Today the political posters have an identity shaping role, where we may barely recognise a face and a party political letter in passing and nothing else. The rest other media will take care of,” says Peter Nedergaard.

Enhedslisten (The Red–Greens) and Dansk Folkeparti (The Danish People’s Party) are, according to the political scientist, currently the only parties, which have managed to maintain the symbolism and humour from previous times. Peter Nedergaard mentions that Dansk Folkeparti has turned criticism into an advantage through humour, such as on a poster with a photo of Pia Kjærsgaard, the party leader, and the message ”Danmarks hjemmehjælp” (Denmark’s domestic help) from 1998, at a time when she had been ridiculed for ”only” being a domestic helper by trade.

Piece of Danish political history

Peter Nedergaard thinks that there are good reasons why researchers and those with an interest in politics take Danish election posters more seriously.

”The election posters give us a different picture of the political environment throughout the times than what can be read in texts relating to the different time periods. Words are important, but pictures can tell us something different and more than words. The posters show us how the parties had prepared the population to think about politics throughout the times,” he says.

Even if it is currently hard times for the Danish election poster, Peter Nedergaard expects that it will survive for many years to come.

”We have a very strong tradition for election posters to maintain and create a certain mood up to an election. At the same time the election poster has shown to be quite resistant to indirect attacks from other media, so we get to see the posters again on every single lamp post,” says Peter Nedergaard.

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