Can Olympic Poster Art Dispel Paris’s Reputation for Cultural Snobbery?
Six French artists and two Americans created a collection of posters to celebrate next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, with the caveat that their creations help those outside of art and sports connect with the event.
A time-honored tradition since Stockholm 1912, Olympic posters have served as a sort of time capsule of their era’s social, political, and artistic traditions. Before the advent of radio and TV, they played a pivotal role in disseminating key information about the Games to the public. The International Olympic Committee and Paris’ Organizing Committee recently debuted posters celebrating next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games. They arrive as part of the Cultural Olympiad program, which has accompanied each Games since 1992. A jury of officials from the two committees, the French Ministry of Culture, and fellow artists selected the eight participating French and American artists.
They were tasked with creating one poster each for the Olympic and Paralympic games, with one caveat: be approachable to people outside the insular worlds of art and sports. Fanny Michaëlis’s joyful illustrated posters feel like a spiritual successor to the Memphis Group’s blocky shapes, high-contrast colors, and squiggles, while photographer Stéphanie Lacombe captures athletes in disarming moments of vulnerability: thinking, resting, and visualizing the victories they’ve spent their lives chasing. Additional posters by photographer duo Elsa and Johanna and cartoonist Pierre Seinturier drum up enthusiasm for how the Games bring people together. An intrinsic relationship between art and sport—or “muscles and mind,” in the words of Paris 2024 President Pierre de Coubertin—underscores the collection.
The plurality of perspectives, mediums, styles, and artist backgrounds perhaps signals an attempt to democratize art, promote shared values, and eschew political or nationalist themes—even though politics and the Olympics seem increasingly difficult to untangle. “French art doesn’t exist,” says Dominique Hervieu, the head of culture for Paris 2024, who previously led the Lyon Dance Biennial and spoke with Fast Company about the Culture Olympiad. “French art is diversity. Diversity of aesthetics, style, point of view.”
Of course, with institutions as grand as the Musée d’Orsay, the Centre Pompidou, Château de Versailles, and the Paris Opera Ballet all slated to participate in the Cultural Olympiad, France’s cultural legacy is being celebrated to the fullest. “Giving great visibility to cultural actors, seizing the momentum of the Games to bring sport and culture closer together, making Paris 2024 the project of an entire country: this is the ambition we share with our entire ecosystem, and which comes to life with the Cultural Olympiad,” says Tony Estanguet, President of the Paris 2024 Games.