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Art of the Olympic Games: London's grand designs

By Tom McGowan, CNN
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Thu July 26, 2012
These 12 posters will be used to promote the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games. These 12 posters will be used to promote the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games.
London 2012 posters unveiled
  • The 12 Olympic and Paralympic posters which will be used in 2012 have been unveiled
  • Art and design has been central to the planning of London 2012
  • Olympic posters can provide a snapshot of the political environment of the time
  • Anish Kapoor's Orbit is a 115-meter high steel sculpture

(CNN) -- The 2012 Olympic Games in London will see world-class competitors display their skills across 39 disciplines, with the British capital also taking the opportunity to showcase itself as a vibrant, modern, cultural center.

A series of 12 Olympic and Paralympic posters were commissioned to promote the Games and show how art is firmly entrenched in London's plans for "the greatest show on Earth."

Acclaimed British artist Tracey Emin was tasked with composing one of the posters; the 48-year-old is championing the involvement of art in the hosting of the Games.

"Culture runs alongside the Olympics," Emin told CNN. "London, and Britain, has a lot more to offer than just sport."

Emin hoped her Paralympic poster, which bears the words "You inspire me with your determination and I love you" and pictures two birds, would be a complete contrast to the marketing material for previous Games.

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"I want people to smile and feel kind of warm and feel that they're part of something and not excluded," she explained. "The previous posters were a little bit on the macho fascist side. I wanted to do something which was the complete antithesis."

Art historian and exhibitions curator at London's Victoria and Albert Gallery, Ghislaine Wood concurs with Emin's views, explaining how Olympic posters provide an insight into the political mood of years gone by.

"Olympic posters provide a fantastic snapshot," said Wood. "They really do provide a real insight into how posters communicate ideas at different points.

Wood highlights the Munich Games of 1972 as an example of how Germany attempted to use the posters to change the way it was perceived globally following World War Two.

"There was a very conscious effort to change the look and feel of that Olympics. Fascist connotations of Berlin 1936 have been utterly changed to brand it as a modern, democratic event."

According to Wood, London's push to display itself as a forward-thinking city is not confined to its poster. The logo, the brainchild of designers Wolff Olins, and the spectacular Aquatics Centre also show how the city is attempting to stamp its identity on the Games.

"The Wolff Olins logo was a very powerful element in the whole branding of the London Olympics. If you look at (architect) Zaha Hadid's Aquatics Centre, a fantastic piece of modern, contemporary design, and the tower."

The tower Wood refers to is a 115-meter high steel sculpture designed by Britain's Anish Kapoor known as the Orbit, which has been erected at the Olympic Park.

Kathryn Findlay works for Ushida Findlay Architects, a firm that was involved in the construction of the Orbit. She says the red twisting structure will provide a visual thrill for viewers both near and far.

"From afar, people in different parts of London will get glimpses of it," said Findlay. "As you go there on the train you'll see this object appearing. As you go closer to it, the scale of the sculpture, and the color, are quite surprising.

"There are these mirrors on either side, which invert people and they'll see themselves reflected in the sculpture.

"It is eclectic, unexpected, it's inventive. Whether you like it or you hate it, you will always see it, like Big Ben or the London Eye, as one of these eccentric British creations."

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