Barcelona Cultura

Pilar Vélez: "The pieces that make up 'The boom of advertising' allow us to know how society was"

In this last interview of 2018, we talked with Pilar Vélez, director of the Design Museum and curator of the new temporary exhibition "The Advertising Boom. Tin, cardboard and tile posters. " Inaugurated today the exhibition explores advertisements made on tin, cardboard and tile that changed advertising throughout history.

Interviewer) What will we find in the exhibition 'The boom of advertising'?

Pilar) It is an exhibition focusing on modern commercial advertising from the end of the 19th century until the end of the 20th century, its most relevant moment. It came out of the industrial revolution and the industrialization of society: certain types of products appear and need to be sold. As a consequence of this, advertising was born and especially the graphic world, graphic reproduction, takes control. Industrialization and new graphic reproduction techniques, especially chromolithography, gave the world color, and the possibility of image and text beyond white and black.

This exhibition focuses on three media that are not the traditional posters of paper: chromolithography on cardboard; on tin, more durable than paper; and on ceramics, more durable than all others. These ceramic panels are very innovative, since they use the tubing technique which gives very attractive and very useful results for advertising.

There is one important thing that is seen in this exhibition, in the early stages of modern advertising, what prevails is the brand. That is, the manufacturers gave visual importance to the brand because when people saw the name they related it with a brand, a reference, a good home, a product. Later on, slogans appeared, they did not appear at the beginning, but little by little advertising gradually became professional and moved forward to achieve its goals.

Viewing the exhibition, you also see customs, concepts, ways, social norms ... Also, at the Design Museum, we view it from the perspective of design, so there are not only pieces but explanations of the processes, both ceramic and chromolithography. Since design is usually the concept, the process, with some techniques, some materials give a final product. We have also published a book that focuses on  the collection of tin and cardboard by Mateu Llinàs. In this book, the experts that collaborated on the project explain these processes to us. The exhibition is not accompanied by a catalog but by a complementary book. 

I) The exhibition consists of 250 pieces from different collections. Can you tell us which institutions they come from and what the process was to bring them to the Design Museum? 

P) La base és una col·lecció privada de Mateu Llinàs, de Barcelona que ens explica com el col·leccionisme és molt important per conservar aquests materials, sobretot pel que fa al cartró i la llauna. Quant a la ceràmica, la majoria de peces vénen del Museu de Ceràmica de Manisses, que l’any 1997 va fer un salvament del fons d’una antiga fàbrica de rajoles que s’havia enderrocat, i abans que es malmetessin i es destruissin, el museu les va salvar. Gràcies a la voluntat i la perseverança dels col·leccionistes, així com als coneixements dels responsables de patrimoni i dels museus, això s’ha conservat.

This exhibition was created from a heritage perspective, we are a heritage center. The base is a private collection by Mateu Llinàs, from Barcelona, that tells us how collecting is very important for the preservation of these materials, especially in regard to cardboard and tin. Regarding ceramics, most pieces came from the Museum of Ceramics of Manisses, which in 1997 rescued a number of pieces from an old tile factory that had been demolished, before they were damaged and destroyed. Thanks to the will and perseverance of collectors, as well as the knowledge of those responsible for heritage and museums, they have been preserved.

Un dels altres objectius que té l’exposició és explicar com aquests materials passen de ser materials efímers, amb una vida limitada. A través dels anys i de la valoració d’aquests professionals, aquesta publicitat acaba esdevenint patrimoni cultural, pel seu valor comunicatiu, artístic… Fa que se’l consideri un patrimoni cultural digne d’estar en un centre patrimonial, tal com ho fa una pintura o un gerro d’un pintor reconegut.

One of the other objectives of the exhibition is to explain how these materials have gone from a limited, ephemeral life to, with the passage of time and the valuation of these professionals, becoming cultural heritage, because of their communicative value, artistic ... through this it becomes something that is considered a cultural heritage worth having in a museum, in the same realm of paintings or a vase by a recognized painter.

I) How did advertising and design evolve through these objects and during this period?

P) We work more from the perspective of graphic design and sociology behind the work. The pieces that form part of the exhibition allows us to understand how society was. It's important to say that advertising in this era was veery naive and was very different from the advertising we know now. In regard to the image, those with more prestige (for example with alcoholic beverages), the brand was written very large and they looked for artists to create this image for them. Artists, not advertisers, because the concept of publicity did not exist yet. Artists that were not poster artists, as poster art as we know it in the design world did not arrive until the 20th century. Ramon Casa, for example, created posters from some important brands, and made drawings. People recognized that there was an important artist behind the large brand letters. 

 Tot això té a veure amb la industrialització: quan la gent treballa, quan la dona surt de casa, té menys temps… La població necessita uns productes que l’ajudin a viure millor i a rendibilitzar més el temps. Productes com les galetes, que abans es feien a casa, es queden sense temps durant el segle XIX, i apareixen unes fàbriques que fan galetes arreu d’Europa, un producte que comença a anunciar-se a través d’aquests suports: la caixa de llauna, el cartró… Algunes d’aquestes marques encara existeixen, les consumim avui dia.

There were many competitions where cartoonists from all over the world participated, something that represented a very powerful birth and that gradually became professional. From there, illustrators and poster artists were born, which made images more synthetic and more striking, especially in the chromatic field, and now, finally accompanied by a slogan. All this has to do with industrialization: when people work, when women leave their homes, they have less time ... In the 19th century, the population began to need products to help them live better and make better use of their time. There was no longer time for products like cookies, which were previously made at home. Factories that began to make cookies throughout Europe, a product that began to be advertised using the tin box, cardboard. Some of these brands still exist, we consume them nowadays.

During the 20's, the advertising world grew. In Barcelona we have one of the oldest agencies in the world, Roldós, which appeared at the end of the 19th century and still exists. Barcelona as a the industrialized city that it was, became in this moment one of the leaders, a central place in the commercial advertising world, since if you produce, you have to sell. It advanced, become more professional, schools appeared, associations 

I) What importance do you think different materials have in the world of graphic design? This exhibition focuses on tile, cardboard, tin ...

P) In the world of graphic design, the basic support was paper, but as techniques advanced tin appeared. We have done a mostly two-dimensional object exhibition, although some have evolved into triptychs.

Tin was very important for the preservation of food, and it worked very well for printing with the same technique as paper, chromolithography. The can, moreover, is easier to preserve. With cardboard, chromolithography is usually done on paper glued onto the cardboard. One of the great contributions to this exhibition is three-dimensional cardboard objects, showcards that were placed on the counter and announced products that were sold in the store, and there are still some! In Barcelona, there are many companies that dedicated themselves to the cut-outs, which were often folded and could become very large. Sometimes they represented human figures, and they were very popular. In the exhibition there is one that is taller than me, a female figure selling rolling paper.

As for the tiles, they were a long-lasting advertising material: they were used outside on the street and still remain in some streets around the city! In addition, with enamels and varnish they shone and served not only to announce but also to draw attention to houses and roads. Through the exhibition, we can see how advertising was used to sell everything. Everything was good for spreading a brand and, moreover, just seeing a certain image or a combination of familiar colors a brand could be identified. All these images were converted into icons that everyone knew. The use of tile stands out above all in Valencia, while tin was more common in Catalonia, through the Italian house Gottardo D'Andreis, which opened in Badalona in 1905, and became one of the most important factories.

I) How have these supports and materials evolved until now?

P) Chromolithography was in use until the middle of the 20th century. Images were drawn on stone at first and metal. Over time, it became sophisticated and evolved into photomechanical reproduction procedures, then offset came, photocomposition, digital world, etc. On the other hand, photography began to be used more in designs, all this photomechanical world made that supports such as tile remain something residual in the world of the publicity. However, there are some designs that are still valid today in products that we still consume.

P) Entendre d’on venim, i saber reconèixer que això és un patrimoni cultural i que explica molt de la nostra societat. Es tracta de documents, aquesta primera publicitat és ara per nosaltres un document històric. Des del Museu, un dels nostres objectius és generar coneixement, ensenyar, mostrar, valorar, mostrar, analitzar. Per exemple, a l’exposició hi ha publicitat, molt poca, de l’etapa republicana, en català, que hem volgut conservar. I veus evolució. L’exposició està organitzada més o menys per àmbits cronològics, hi ha Art Noveau, Modernisme, etc.

I) What would be its importance today, where digital media is becoming increasingly important?

P) To understand where we come from, and know how to recognize that this is a cultural heritage that explains much of our society. These are documents, these first advertisements are historic documents. From the Museum, one of our objectives is to generate knowledge, teach, show, evaluate, show, analyze. For example, in the exhibition there is very little advertisting from the Republican era in Catalan, which we wanted to keep and show. And you see the evolution. The exhibition is organized more or less in chronological fields, there is Art Nouveau, Modernisme, etc.

I) What are the characteristics that evolve most?

P) From the domain of illustration, you arrive at the beginning of the use of photography. More and more there is a tendency towards simplicity. Typography and the letters have a significant force and image and text are more in harmony. It goes from a box, to an image with slogan, grotesque elements, a message.

I) What are the most relevent pieces in your opinion in the exhibition? 

P) They are all interesting, but I would say the showcards that I mentioned before, these cardboard pieces, because you don't see them so often now and they are significant and iconic.

I) How do you see the future of design in Barcelona?

R) Today, the concept of “design” includes everything and nothing! Any of the lines in which work is being done lately from the schools of Barcelona is that of social design: work to generate a useful design to transform society. The new generation of designers needs to be aware of the role they have to improve and transform, I believe that this is the line, regardless of traditional design, which must be followed.

I) If you were to choose a reference designer, who would you choose?

P) There are many reference points and in many areas: fashion designers, product designers, graphic designers ... In addition, Barcelona is a reference center for design. We are fortunate to have a Design Museum, which aims to be a platform in the body of these sectors and when someone around the world wants to know who the reference designers are in Spain, they can come here, online or in person, and see everything that is happening here.

I) What is your favorite design/object?

P) The olive oil recipient by Rafael Marquina. It is a symbol of the beginning of everything that was design. It is such an everyday and vulgar element, in the most positive sense of the term: an element that you have in the kitchen and use daily for cooking or have on the table ... it has a symbolic value, and is exhibited in the Museum among other outstanding pieces. We value design for its functional contributions, too.


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