‘Olympic Games Melbourne: 1956’, the poster designed by Richard Beck for the XVI Olympiad, introduced a significant stylistic interruption to the imagery used to promote the Olympic occasion and its ideals. Posters for previous summer Games, since 1912, featured different renditions of the semi-naked male athletic body. Beck’s poster dispensed with human figuration, instead offering a sparse geometrical design said to depict an invitation card. While there is little formal evidence to indicate the commission of a specified design, Beck’s image fitted well the agenda pursued by the local organizers, for Melbourne to be represented as a ‘modern’ destination, a location where the Olympic Games could be conducted at distance from old enmities. This paper looks at Beck’s poster in parallel to other projects produced for the Melbourne Olympics, such as the Olympic Pool complex, the Arts Festival, and his own designs of graphic material and public art objects for the same Olympics, as well as tracing the designer’s professional trajectory from Britain to Australia. The paper’s major aim is to create greater awareness of Richard Beck’s design so that its significance to the history of Olympic posters might become better known, and its contribution to Australian modernism better understood.
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