L.A. Olympic Posters: No Nudes


The 25th anniversary of the 1984 Olympic Games, held here in Los Angeles, has come and gone.

So, yeah, we're not exactly getting around to this post with the speed of Usain Bolt -- or, less anachronistically, Edwin Moses and Florence Griffith-Joyner.

Among the commemorations of those '84 summer games that caught TTLA's eye was a fold-out pamphlet produced by the LA84 Foundation.

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The '84 games are usually haled for U.S. medals dominance (note: the Soviets boycotted); for reducing traffic on the city's streets; and for turning a profit. Those dollars led directly to a quarter-century of research, grant-making, a great sports library on West Adams Boulevard, and other work and events by LA84, formerly known as the Amateur Athletic Foundation.

The LA84 commemorative pamphlet folds out to feature, in part, 28 posters from games held since the 1896 rebirth of the Olympics.

From 1912 through 1956, nine of the ten posters featured in the pamphlet include an image of the human form. In every instance save one, that form -- or forms -- are nude, covered only by well-placed ribbons or laurel. The lone exception: the 1932 Olympic Games, which were held in L.A.

Does this mean Angelinos -- in those early Hays Code days -- were more prudish than the good folks of Stockholm (1912), Antwerp (1920), Paris (1924), Amsterdam (1928), Berlin (1936), London (1948), Helsinki (1952), and Stockholm again (1956, nude man with cape riding a horse)?


The '32 poster was made by artist Julio Kilenyi. To view the work, visit this page of the LA84 site, download the free-of-charge .pdf for "Art and Sport: Images to Herald the Olympic Games" and go to page 25. It turns out that the image is of a child -- making nudity a moot question.

According to text on page 25 of the report:

"In an effort to produce an official poster which would be novel, and at the same time attractive enough to justify its being displayed over a period of many months..., the Los Angeles Olympic Committee chose the medal designer and sculptor Julio Kilenyi to create a poster for the 1932 Olympic Games (Official Report, Xth Olympiad, Los Angeles, 1932.) Kilenyi modeled the design in clay as a relief sculpture. The relief was photographed in black and white and then reproduced as a color lithograph. Entitled, Call to the Games of the Xth Olympiad, the poster depicts an ancient Greek custom of sendng a young athlete to herald the celebration of the next Olympic Games. Kilenyi incorporated this idea by presenting an athlete holding the laurel of peace."

By the 1984 Games, poster styles had undergone a major transformation. Human forms were out, and and logo-centric imagery was in. White, negative space was essential to the the Tokyo '64, Montreal '76, and Barcelona '92 posters as well as for L.A. '84.

According to another "Art and Sport" essay, this one by Constance B. Zamora and Cheryl Anne Bailey:

"The 1960s, in contrast, witnessed a dramatic change in poster art and design. Designers returned to the use of bold, fully saturated colors in imagery. However, a new economy of line and the deliberate application of logographic forms guaranteed instant recognition on an international level."


"WIth the establishment of the design unity concept for all Olympic Games, designers were able to explore other ways to illustrate the energy and drama of the sport. By using the logo as the 'heralding' element, designers and artists could employ more innovative and expressive mediums (photography, collage, or mixed media) to communicate the emotional, kinetic and spellbinding aspects of Olympic events. The concept is clearly illustrated by the selection of Robert Miles Runyan's Stars in Motion design for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. His image became a logo attached to all posters in the Art Series that year, including poster imagery by artists such as Billy Al Bengston (Plate No. 20); Carlos Almaraz (Plate No. 21); and John Baldessari (Plate No. 22)."

"Art and Sport" -- see pg. 38 -- later notes that Runyan's design was selected following interviews with 34 artists and designers, and a competition among three finalists.

Again, the images and text mentioned above are here as part of a free-of-charge download of "Art and Sport: Images to Herald the Olympic Games."

Also, related, in the text, Lisa Anne Escovedo's essay details how it took about 50 years for a consensus to form about whether Olympic cities should hold "art festivals" around the Games, instead of other debated options such as an arts competition with medals awarded to winners.

Photo Credits: The images accompanying this post were taken by Flickr users Los Mininos (top) and Grifray (bottom). The images were used under Creative Commons license.

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