John Hassall, No need to ask a P’liceman, 1908, lithograph, London Transport Museum, © TfL from the London Transport Museum Collection
Well, this is embarrassing: the MoMA and the Yale Center for British Art have nearly simultaneously come out with exhibitions on the same subject. In museum-world, isn’t that like two girls showing up to a party in the same dress?
Nevertheless, it’s an interesting enough topic that the repetition hardly matters. The Yale Center’s “Art For All: British Posters For Transport,” on view through August 15, and the MoMA’s “Underground Gallery: London Transport Posters 1920s-1940s,” on view through February 28, 2011, both offer a fascinating look at London’s innovative campaign to bring art into the Underground and create a strong civic identity.
The two exhibits’ slightly different focuses also help reduce the redundancy. The larger Yale exhibit features over 100 posters, really giving a sense of the diversity of artistic schools represented in the Underground campaign, ranging from Cubism, to post-impressionism, to Japanese woodblock prints. The MoMA show is a smaller installation, with only 20 posters, but the curators have chosen carefully to capture the zeitgeist of the city of London during those years — its culture, its entertainment, and its fears of war.