Art of the Poster

Art of the Poster

Main Library – Second and Third Floor Galleries
June 4 – August 25, 2007
Art of the Poster, featuring some of the finest posters in The Newark Public Library’s extensive collection of more than 5,000 works, opens in the Main Library’s second and third floor galleries, 5 Washington Street on June 4, 2007.

The Art of the Poster exhibit includes images that depict musical themes and other performing arts, the two World Wars, architecture and architects, sculptors and their works, the history of photography, travel and notable artists.

The posters, while beautiful, are in essence merchandising tools. “Posters are mostly about selling something, whether it’s an art exhibit, a vacation in Puerto Rico or the urgency of war,” said William J. Dane, curator of the exhibit and the Library’s Keeper of Prints, Posters and Works of Art on Paper. “It’s the vitality of the visual image and the wording that we focused on when deciding what to select for the poster collection.”

Joan of Arc is featured prominently in one of the World War I posters. Screaming eagles fly in a second war poster. The art of Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso on posters will also grace the gallery walls. The cases will contain some of the Library’s treasured books on poster history, including one featuring the posters produced by the artists of the Soviet Union during the communist period.

“Undeniably, the art of the poster is quite different from the art of painting pictures, and until this distinction is made apparent there is likely to be a continued compromise between the two arts. Bad painters design bad posters. Herkomer, Leighton and Millais are prime examples. Good painters have always produced good posters. Daumier, Manet and Bonnard are a few examples. Structurally, painting and poster design have this in common, that proportion in design necessarily governs all works of art and craft. Apart from this, posters and pictures fall under different categories. The artist, as poster designer, must bear in mind that the aim of the poster should be to present a summary of the set of facts to be advertised and to group and interpret them in such a manner that they will be quickly grasped by the spectator and remain impressed upon his memory.” From: The Art of the Poster by E. Mcknight Kauffer, Palmer, 1924.

“Through its century-long history, the poster has proved to be a remarkably resilient medium, adapting itself to a variety of aesthetics and uses. While no longer the principal vehicle for commercial advertising (having been replaced by the illustrated press, radio, and television), it remains important commercially in several contexts, most notably in subway stations, college campuses, and also along highways in the form of the billboard.

“In general, the aesthetic vitality of the commercial poster has declined, although occasionally a corporation commissions a campaign that surprised. But rather than deplore, as many have done, the imminent demise of the poster medium one must separate its commercial function from its other roles. The poster’s commercial use has always been one of its aspects. It is equally significant as a reproducible popular cultural medium that can be used by all—from large institutions to small cultural or political movements and individuals—to give visual expression to their ideas and beliefs. That cannot be said of television, radio or the press.

“Its unique position at the intersection of different artistic mediums; fine and applied arts; handicrafts and mass production; culture, politics, and commerce; and, not least of all, artist and mass audience has brought many of the most ambitious and visionary artists, architects, and designers of the twentieth century to the medium. They have seen the poster as a vehicle for getting out into the streets, beyond the salons and the museums, and the engaging the world. Involved in everyday cultural, political, or commercial issues, the poster at its best has been, and continues to be, an extraordinary social and artistic document.”
From: The Modern Poster by Stuart Wrede, The Museum of Modern Art, 1988.

“Through all its transformation the poster, in spite of attacks by its detractors and lamentations by nostalgia buffs, is very much alive today. Certainly there is a seemingly unbreachable gap between the commercial and the cultural poster. But the advertising poster is no worse off than before.

“Once the crucial turning point of the Sixties was past, the poster gained new vigor, and today is of a high quality. The graphics vs. photography debate is over, and throughout the world the Seventies have seen the development of an effective visual communication. Most of the time the conception is no longer an artist’s; it is the result of teamwork, and it is an agency that signs the poster. But many advertisers have recovered their enthusiasm for this most spectacular of media, and as a result, every country has developed again a national style. It depends upon the designers, of course, but also on regulations on posters that considerably vary their possibilities for expression. And in the same way, the relative importance of posters to other media—radio, press, TV—makes the creative richness vary.

“For example, the Scandinavian poster remains limited, as in the past, by its display posts—mainly railway and public transit stations—which limit the image to the railway format. Switzerland, too, the cradle of modern graphics, suffers by being limited to its “world format.” Furthermore, the creation of new displays posts is forbidden except on certain construction sites. These provide the only opportunities for Swiss poster makers to break out of the usual format, which elsewhere limits them to enlarged announcements.

“In the United States the reverse is true: there are no limits on format. A billboard is a veritable monument, with concrete abutments for support, a ladder and platform for maintenance and lighting. But exterior advertising occupies a tiny part of budgets devoured by the press and television. It largely serves products prohibited on television, such as cigarettes and hard liquor. The results are, on the whole, disastrous: European posters seem to me more oriented to the public than, as in the United States, to the product.”
From The Poster by Alain Weill, G.K. Hall, 1984.

The collection has grown through Library purchases, donations and gifts of original and reproduced work until it has evolved into one of the foremost collections of graphic art in the state. To arrange a group tour of the exhibit, please call 973-733-7745.