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The Posters Of The Montreux Jazz Festival: The Art Of Music Marketing

Some of contemporary art’s biggest names have lent their talent to what is essentially an advertising object. A new book shows how the result, time and again, has been art of the highest order.

Montreux Jazz Festival poster 1999 (montreuxjazzshop.com)
Montreux Jazz Festival poster 1999 (montreuxjazzshop.com)
Rocco Zacheo

Andy Warhol and Max Bill, Jean Tinguely and Shigeo Fukuda, Keith Haring and Bernhard Luginbühl: each has taken a turn a sharing his inspiration and artistic talents to create an official poster for the Montreux Jazz Festival. These iconic posters, crafted by some of the kings of the contemporary art world, are unique objects that embody a certain idea of prestige.

By now, it seems fairly obvious that the musical Rendez-vous of the Riviera attaches such great importance to this modest-sized square of paper. Isn't the poster the first object of seduction that professionals use to start wooing the public as early as possible? Isn't it an essential communication strategy tool for any self-respecting festival?

Still, Montreux's ambitions on this front are unsurpassed. The festival invests in graphics and reaps the benefits: not only do posters and T-shirt sales generate huge revenues, the object canm also take on cult status and end up in the hands of collectors. The body of artwork has now inspired a book, Esthètes d'affiches (Poster Esthete), by the musician, journalist and literature professor Jean-Jacques Tordjman.

The book contains quality reproductions of all the posters, except the very first one from 1967. Long literary pieces accompany the images. Tordjman has imagined playful dialogues between the texts and the visuals. "I established a hypnotic relationship with the posters," explains the author. "Often inspiration came at night, after long contemplations of the artworks. Right from the beginning, I was looking for a narrative thread that would be as diverse as the posters."

These texts play with our imagination and feed off Jazz history, and tales of the Festival. The book sprang from numerous pending questions. What is the status of these artistic pieces, which you cannot find in any museum or church? What is the status of the artist who signed the piece, but who is also attached to an exercise in public relations?

Tordjman finally made the decision to celebrate all the posters without distinction. He focused instead on "the obvious evolution of the aesthetic, and the role of the poster over time." He explained that apart from a few exceptions, we have witnessed the progressive disappearance of text, with most of the artists choosing not to evoke the names of the musicians on the bill. Pure plastic creation, and along with it the name of its author, ends up taking up more and more space. The poster thus rises to the status of high art.

Pierre Keller's appointment as the head of the Festival's merchandizing and public image department clearly confirmed this turn. The former director of the Lausanne University of Art and Design remembers: "For my first edition in 1982, I thought we needed to choose high-profile artists with international stature. I realized our focus on the poster was as essential as any other aspect."

Jean Tinguely was the first artist to be chosen. He left his mark by creating the Montreux Jazz Festival's logo, which remains the same, edition after edition. Other artists followed him, like Keith Haring in 1983. "It was the fist time this American landed in Europe for a project of this dimension. He created the poster and performed on stage along with the musicians and in the streets of Montreux. I saw him again a few years later in his studio in New York. Andy Warhol paid us an unexpected visit, and as we talked, he agreed to collaborate with Keith Haring for the 1986 poster. As often happens, we decided everything quite naturally."

Tordjman saw that behind all of these artworks, which look so instantly familiar, there were stories to be told.

Read the original story in French

Photo - montreuxjazzshop

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