Why a poster museum?
When I was approached to take on the task of bringing a poster museum to life in New York City, I asked the same question. For 10 years I had been working with contemporary arts non-profits, liaising with living artists and curators on residencies and exhibitions around the world. I knew a few artists working with the poster medium, but those still functioned as fine art prints and weren’t considered disposable advertising by any means. I saw posters everyday in the subway and on the street, but didn’t think of them as subjects for a museum, when most of the museums I visited focused on fine arts. So why posters and why now?
While I didn’t come from the world of posters, I was quick to fall in love. Contemporary art often seemed to me to require a rather in-depth knowledge of the subject or the creator in order to really grasp what was going on in the piece. There is a tendency to aim slightly above the viewer’s head because it is that plane of exclusivity that adds value to the experience. Posters have to communicate immediately. They are selling you something and if they don’t grab your attention in 3 seconds, they fail. Next stop garbage can. They are intended for a mass audience and you don’t need any special knowledge to decipher them. They’re clear, they’re catchy, and they’re often spaces for innovation in the fields of design and typography. They’re good looking. And they are windows into a specific time and place that tell you what was happening, what was cool, what was appealing at that moment.
Once I understood that, I was hooked. It made sense to me to celebrate a medium that teeters on the edge of art and design with a strong commercial thrust behind it – because that’s a pretty good description of contemporary society. And it turns out that’s a pretty good description of different eras and places throughout history, made manifest through advertising at large and posters specifically ever since the Industrial Revolution.
There are museums all over the world dedicated to posters – but not one in the United States! We have galleries and individual exhibitions about posters, but not a singular institution that focuses on posters alone and their value as aesthetic documents and historical time machines. More and more, we embrace museums dedicated to subjects outside the fine arts (Ice cream! Math! Death!) and I think that’s because we enjoy analyzing life through the lens of the everyday. Things we touch and see and understand because we come in contact with them all the time.
We also seem to be more aware of the function of design. Product design, graphic design, branding, and web development are all booming industries, and central to each is how to use design to communicate with large audiences. That’s what a poster does. And that’s all you need to know to enjoy them. What Poster House will add to that experience is the background and framework and secret histories that enhance that enjoyment.
Before we open our doors, we are going to be hosting pop-up exhibitions, special events, and audience surveys, so we look forward to meeting you all and welcoming you to Poster House!