During the 1930s, artists, designers and creative thinkers fled Nazi Germany, seeking sanctuary in London and New York. Frédéric Kay Henri Henrion was amongst a group of émigré designers who arrived in London in the late 1930s. Training initially as a textile and poster designer in Paris, he settled in London where he became part of a creative enclave that would become influential in developing new exhibition design practices and contribute to the professionalisation of design. Henrion would become a key agent in this network, building a career that would establish him as a designer, educator and one of the first practitioners of corporate identity design.
During World War Two, ʻpropaganda exhibitionsʼ became a vital component of the communications framework of the Ministry of Information (MOI) and US Office of War Information (OWI). Exhibitions took place in public spaces, from electricity showrooms and village halls to department stores and cinemas on a range of topics ranging from how to cope in an air raid to growing vegetables. During the year ending June 1944, the MOI alone had mounted displays and exhibitions for a total audience exceeding 40 million.
This research examines why exhibitions were such an important mode of mass communications during the war and considers how Henrion mediated messages of propaganda and national identity in two of his exhibitions. Off the Ration (1942) for the Ministry of Agriculture and MOI, was presented at Charing Cross underground station and toured nationally. Later it was further developed for installation at Regentʼs Park Zoo, where it became one of the MOIʼs most popular exhibitions.2 Part of the Dig for Victory campaign, its purpose was to persuade the public to cultivate vegetables and rear livestock for food. Multi-sensory, entertaining and educational, the exhibition successfully united location, content and design, drawing on the visual language of the English garden in a metropolitan setting. Young America (April 1944) was held in College Hall, Deanʼs Yard, Westminster and part of an initiative to educate young people about the ʻAmerican way of lifeʼ, it subsequently toured the country with the aim of portraying a nation leading the charge towards a progressive and democratic future reaching an audience of more than 37,000 people.3
In a pre-television age, wartime exhibitions were fit for purpose, communicating key state messages to the public through informative displays that were engaging and entertaining. Henrion, and the designers working on them drew inspiration from a range of different art and design influences, in this way contemporary design entered the public realm and consciousness.
This dissertation argues that the war years marked a flashpoint in exhibition design and an acceleration in practice that deserves recognition. The legacy of these exhibitions was a highly developed form of visual communication that would continue to prove useful after WW2 when the focus shifted from communicating public information to the promotion of world trade, the best of British design and economic renewal.
BA(Hons) Museum and Heritage Studies
21 Dec 2015