Olympic posters

When the London 2012 Olympics organisers announced plans to commission 12 artists to design the official posters for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, questions were raised both here and over at Creative Review about why artists had been selected instead of designers.

Tracey Emin, Birds 2012

Well now you can see the results of the commissioning for yourself, as the 12 artists – among them Tracey Emin, Bob and Roberta Smith and Chris Ofili – have unveiled their designs, which will go on sale both as posters and limited-edition prints and also feature in a promotional campaign and a Tate Britain exhibition.

Howard Hodgkin, Swimming

Six of the posters, by Martin Creed, Anthea Hamilton, Howard Hodgkin, Chris Ofili, Bridget Riley and Rachel Whiteread are for the Olympics. Of these, Hodgkin’s abstract blue Swimming poster is an obvious standout, while Riley has contributed part of her recent and rather lovely Rose Rose series – with the vertical lines recalibrated as horizontals to reference athletic tracks.

Bridget Riley, Rose
Bridget Riley, Rose Rose

The six Paralympics posters, meanwhile, have been created by Fiona Banner, Michael Craig-Martin, Tracey Emin, Gary Hume, Sarah Morris and Bob and Roberta Smith. There’s a definite and welcome graphics focus among these, particulary evident in Morris’, while Banner’s Superhuman Nude is striking but possibly a little text-heavy.


Sarah Morris,  Big Ben 2012

The 12 artists were chosen from an initial longlist of more than 100, which was compiled by the London Organising Committee for the Olympics Games with Tate.

Fiona Banner
Fiona Banner

A judging panel featuring Tate director Nicholas Serota and Cultural Olympiad director Ruth Mackenzie then selected the final list and commissioned each artist to create ‘a distinct interpretation of either the Olympic or Paralympic Games’.

Bob and Roberta Smith, Love 2012
Bob and Roberta Smith, Love 2012

Alongside today’s poster reveal, the Cultural Olympiad has also launched its full programme for the London 2012 Festival, a 12-week art-led event that will run next year alongside the Olympics.

The design highlight here is unquestionably the major solo exhibition of Heatherwick Studio’s work at the V&A, entitled Designing the Extraordinary, while plans for installations by Anthony McCall – for a vertical, spinning column of cloud above Wirral Waters – and by Rachel Whiteread – for the façade of the Whitechapel Gallery – also sound intriguing.

Martin Creed, Work No 1273

Martin Creed, meanwhile, is encouraging everyone in the country to mark the opening day of the Olympics by taking part in his Work No. 1197: All the bells in a country rung as quickly and loudly as possible for three minutes. A collaborative work, you can apparently take part using church bells, handbells, bike bells or just your doorbell.

The posters are available from www.london2012.com/shop and the London 2012 Festival runs from 21 June-9 September 2012.

All images © London 2012

Hide Comments (18)Show Comments (18)
  • G woodward November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    What a load of crap my two year old grandson could do better.hardly inspiring for the greatest sporting event in the world

  • Jake November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    This was our our chance to show the world that Great Britain is still a world leader in the creative industries… and I have doubts if we have lived up to the mark.

    Modern Art… you either love it or you hate it. Still, I expect Mr. Hodgkin was paid handsomely for his abstract swirl…

  • mario minichiello November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    more cunning stunts from those who think that commissioning talented designers will not get them noticed,so they resort to inviting ‘celebrity’ artists to take part in a public car crash – cheap, pointless, and a total bore. this was a key historic moment for British design, a massive window on the world for us, they could have commissioned some of the talented next generation of designers, its a shameful insight into the cock eyed world of marketing, above all its missed opportunity for our design culture at what is a key moment in history .

  • Robert Levison November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    G woodward | Sat, 5 Nov 2011 9:16 am

    What a load of crap my two year old grandson could do better.hardly inspiring for the greatest sporting event in the world

    – Go on then. Give him a brush and post the result to DW (and the Mail and the Guardian etc.)

  • Stephanie Brown November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Creative Review said it best – the problem stems from the brief itself.

  • Richard November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Have I overslept and woken up on April 1st? How much were these muppets paid?!

  • Nicko November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    that’s not a bad idea, I think they want to youngsters involved in the olympics.

  • Julia Stafford November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    I don’t understand why it had to be one or the other – artists or designers. Why not commission 6 artists and 6 designers? I agree it is a missed opportunity, however I personally dislike the London 2012 logo, which was in the designers’ court…

  • sharon bowles November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    mmm, I cocked an eyebrow when i read the first line of this article. I have sympathy for the design community for the loss but bitter and twisted they should not be. The results are refreshing and successful. These posters, full size will be simple and outstanding and so to the point . Mmm i like very much and am much warmed. Designers should learn a lesson from this.

  • Bonson-Johnson November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    It’s all about famous names and the artist as celebrity. This body of work is a bit sad really because non of them have embraced the concept of ‘poster’. They look like they’ve been knocked off in 10 minutes – don’t get me wrong, it’s possible to produce something mighty fine in 10 minutes – but that’s not happened here. The results are a bit boring and predictable.

  • sharon bowles November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    to clarify i meant that designers would have laboured over this as a commission and the pure artist has treated it as a quick comment on the side as its clearly not their core work. Unpretentious and refreshing! And the outcome from either discipline would’ve provoked criticism in any case

  • Roy Smith November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Very disappointing! Over the past twenty years I have always admired the standard of design work from the UK, but this so uninspiring. As a designer myself, I could have done better.

  • Suzi November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Quite like some of the designs as prints!
    I agree that designers and artists together would have worked better. As they usually do in this situation. To arty I think for a subject/event that has to appeal to everybody!!

  • Harry Akakpo November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    What are these lot doing?!
    It’s all been said, but it really has been a missed opportunity to showcase the vast creative talent at most levels the country has to offer. Who ever signed these off – Should av gone to Specksavers.

  • Craig Fell November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Why has the most open and all inclusive event in the world been portrayed as a pretentious, abstract and alienating one. So many people won’t get these and I think they are the result of either artists which are too big for their boots or a poor interpretation of a brief. Shameful use of a window to the world.

  • allen November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    wow…epic fail…especially given the wealth of design talent in the UK.

  • Paul Hooper November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Got to just love it – more jealousies and negative comments – what a surprise. I am sure there are still many opportunities for the designers and creative thinkers out there to go out and create a thing of beauty, relevance and even commercialism that can contribute to next years games and even make their own difference. Go on I challenge you.

  • ditto.tv November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Hi, ditto.tv wrote a blog about the Olympic posters design. If you want to read it, find it here:

    ditto is… looking for inspiration in Olympic design

    12 posters have been commissioned to mark the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics and, as you would expect, the designs have been met by mixed reactions from the public and the design community. The task of deciding which British artists are the most worthy of these commissions is unenviable to say the least. Every publication which has featured the designs has been met with a tirade of negative posts and comments – I’m guessing from designers who’s work wasn’t selected and is, in their eyes, of course much better…

    Hope you like it.

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