Art on the Street

Manus McGrogan traces the radical posters that flowered on the walls of Paris in the spring of 1968, while a new exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London offers a chance to see them.

Early in May 1968 images of demonstrations of the Latin Quarter of Paris were relayed to the world’s media. Abiding shots of stone-throwing students and truncheon-wielding riot police conveyed the intensity of the events, though they failed to give a sense of the causes or spread of the social unrest. Thus far only the new leftist paper Action had spoken for the students but as the movement expanded, from the streets into the faculties and workplaces, activists reached for new means of communication. With this in mind, students and artists took over the Beaux-Arts and Arts Décoratifs schools and set out to influence the wider public through the mass-production of posters. It was all at once a political, artistic and informational experiment, with a clear dual significance.
The posters also provide a narrative of the events. The tone of the poster watchwords shifts from the optimism and confidence, based on the solidarity between the different sections of the movement, to a bitter defiance as the strikes receded and the police progressively broke up the university and factory occupations.

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