A potent mix of visual art and advertising, posters are at “the intersection of art and commerce,” according to the museum. Meant to persuade their audience, posters are used in a huge range of settings by an equally large number of parties, and are all around us. The history of the poster, which begins in the 1800s with the development of cheap and efficient lithography techniques, serves as a history of modern times, charting our cultural events, political movements, consumer trends, and more, through succinct visual capsules.
Posters, in all their various forms and purposes, are a ubiquitous and often over-looked art form. This week in New York, a new museum is opening devoted to their conservation and study. The Poster House, located in Chelsea at 119 West 23rd Street, is the first museum in the United States dedicated exclusively to posters.
The inaugural exhibitions at the Poster House show just how far the art form has come. Alphonse Mucha: Art Nouveau / Nouvelle Femme showcases one of the most beloved artists of the poster genre. Mucha (1860 - 1939) rose to fame in France in the late 1890s, where his posters of the actress Sarah Bernhardt were hugely popular. Having previously worked as an illustrator, his images of Bernhardt brought him new clients in advertising, and soon he was creating sumptuous and flowing images for everything from rolling papers to wine and bicycles. His graphic Art Nouveau style captured the mood of the Belle Époque perfectly, and his captivating images remain popular as posters today.
Fast-forward 100 years, and we have the Cyan graphic design agency, founded in East Berlin in 1989. One of the first agencies to use emerging computer design programs, their images referenced the popular Bauhaus aesthetic, adding a more modern take. Though meant to convey information, their posters are also works of art on their own, encouraging their audience to take in the visuals first, and then the practical information.
Defining posters as “a public-facing printed notice meant to persuade or influence,” the potential breadth of topics and artists the Poster House may exhibit and collect is wide. In New York City, the home of Times Square and a rich and important history in advertising, audiences will surely be attuned to the power of this visual tool.
Designing Through the Wall: Cyan in the 1990s and Alphonse Mucha: Art Nouveau / Nouvelle Femme are both on view through October 6.