The Other Maga

Faced with dire predictions about the death of the poster, lively coalitions formed to engage in two distinctly different strategies in defense of European design traditions. One preached diehard resistance, mounted by joining the postermaker to regional markets and emphasizing the unique and local character of the poster as an idiom of commercial expression. This posture was especially visible in the segmented markets of southern Europe, notably Italy but in France as well. The other spoke to reform by developing a more varied aesthetic idiom and wider marketing appeal, and it was most eloquently practiced in Germany, drawing on its traditions of modernist artistic experimentation and the dynamism of its export-oriented economy.

The strategy of resistance was embodied by the Italian Giuseppe Magagnoli (1878-1933), the founder and director of the poster workshop Maga. A former salesman for the celebrated French poster concern Vercasson, Magagnoli set up his own atelier in his native Bologna in 1920, with showrooms centrally located in Milan and Paris and business connections as far away as Buenos Aires. Criticized as “old school” by proponents of the new advertising and overly invested in postering, the firm went bankrupt in 1932, and the following year the choleric Magagnoli died of heart failure.

In its prime, however, Maga was a glorious undertaking, employing the leading talents of French and Italian poster craft, notably Cappiello, the French-born Achille-Lucien Mauzan, Mario and Severo Pezzati, Marcello Nizzoli, Sinopico, and Pozzati (Sepo), as well as lesser-known and often unnamed figures who worked in the house style. From the platform of “Punch in the Eye” (Pugno nell’occio, or Pan dans l’oeil), his company newsletter, the excitable Magagnoli ranted against “all the old, rancid, and idiotic systems used up to now.” He especially despited the purported scientificity and staid design of American corporate advertising with its “difficult phraseology” and “cabalistic” formulas, whose sole aims were to “boost the self-image of the speaker” and to impress an “audience of imbeciles.” In contrast, Maga’s oisters “materialized ideas” aiming to “take audiences by surprise.” As enlarged trademarks, they “firmly fix the names of the product in their minds.

From Victoria de Grazia’s Irresistible Empire: America’s Advance through Twentieth-Century Europe

I particularly like this Maga poster for the 1929 Geneva International Motor Show:


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