British actor, theatre manager, and wit Herbert Beerbohm Tree famously acknowledged, “It is difficult to live up to one’s posters.” Fine Print! Posters from the Permanent Collection explores just how posters worked to sell audiences on products, people, and ideas. It offers visitors an opportunity to see rarely exhibited European and American posters in the museum’s permanent collection that were produced between the fin-de-siècle French poster movement of the 1890s and the 1972 Olympics. Not only will this be the first time many of these posters have been displayed, but the exhibit also marks the museum’s first large-scale poster show in nearly 50 years. Whether bedecked with the sinuous curves of Art Nouveau, the bold patterns of Art Deco, or the minimalist text and imagery of the International Style, these posters demonstrate how style creates and communicates meaning.
The posters are arranged chronologically and thematically into five key topics areas: artists, entertainers, patriotism, products, and ideas. Following an introduction to art posters and advertising graphics created by the influential late nineteenth-century French poster designer Jules Chéret, a section on propaganda places World War I posters by prominent American illustrators in dialogue with images by foreign propaganda artists. A third section features promotional images that helped sell commodities, whether art, films, or Olivetti typewriters. Internationalism and utopian idealism is evident in a selection of posters that promoted two major international events: the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition and the 1972 Olympics. A selection of posters and graphics produced under the auspices of the Container Corporation of America and General Dynamics Corporation demonstrates how American corporations at midcentury used posters (perhaps dubiously) to pass themselves off as progressive proponents of international harmony.
On the surface, these posters promote entertainers, the arts, products, international events, patriotism, and utopian ideals of cross-cultural harmony. Beneath the surface, they reflect the twentieth century’s conflicting values: militarization, world peace, consumerism, religion, individuality, and mass culture. This exhibition not only represents an opportunity for visitors to see rarely exhibited objects and gain a broader understanding of twentieth-century art and design, but also provides an opportunity for interdisciplinary dialogue about aesthetics, promotion, and the shifting boundaries between fine and commercial art.
Giovanni Pintori (Italy, 1912-1999)
Poster mounted on Masonite, 26 1/2 x 18 in.