New book puts Olympics in the picture

New book puts Olympics in the picture

9 May 2012

The first-ever book to offer an in-depth analysis of images and objects relating to the greatest sports show on earth is published this month by an art historian at the University of Bristol.

Olympic Visions by Mike O’Mahony examines a fascinating array of visual materials that have been made to advertise, celebrate or commemorate the Games, ranging from paintings, drawings and sculptures to documentary film and photographs, posters, mascots and medals.

Every Olympic festival has its own exciting and memorable moments, many familiar to us through television images or the iconic photographs that celebrate them.  But each Games also generates a wide variety of art works.

This book explores how poster artists, filmmakers, architects, designers, painters and sculptors have contributed to this unique global sporting event from the first staging of the modern Olympic Games in 1896 to the present day.

Beautifully illustrated with 116 plates, 40 in colour, Olympic Visions explores the way that visual culture has shaped our understanding of how the Games have evolved and responded - sometimes in highly controversial ways - to constantly changing social and political circumstances. 

Each Olympiad reflects larger issues, including the struggle for gender and racial equality, the spectre of international terrorism, the impact of politics (from National Socialism to the Cold War), and controversies ranging from cheating and drug-taking, to corporate advertising.

By analysing the pictorial legacy of the Games, O’Mahony reveals how this array of visual material has contributed to a broader awareness of these issues and continues to shape the way the Games are viewed today.

Olympic Visions: Images of the Games through History is published by Reaktion Books, £22. 

Mike O’Mahony is Senior Lecturer in the Department of History of Art at the University of Bristol.  He is the author of Sport in the USSR: Physical Culture - Visual Culture (2006) and Sergei Eisenstein (2008), both published by Reaktion Books, and is co-editor of The Visual in Sport (Routledge, 2012).

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