We Tried to Warn You! Environmental Crisis Posters, 1970–2020

September 28, 2023–February 25, 2024
poster of porky pig wearing a gas mask.

“The great question of the 1970s is shall we surrender to our surroundings or shall we make our peace with nature and begin to make reparations for the damage we have done to our air, to our land and to our water?”

—Richard Nixon, State of the Union Address, 1970

Every poster in this exhibition is a failure—not in the sense that they failed in their graphic intent of communicating a message, but rather that they failed to successfully modify behavior. Almost all of the environmental issues showcased in these posters remain or have worsened.

Nevertheless, these impactful images have shaped the bounds of public debate on environmental issues, drawing attention to distinct and particular concerns. While these highlighted narratives have increased the visibility of environmental crises, they have historically masked systemic causes of these problems and ignored structural inequalities. They have also relied heavily on a clear visual culture associated with most environmental poster messaging—what one critic labeled “gas masks and honeybees”—creating a graphic sameness regardless of country or issue.

This exhibition avoids these tropes, charting a global history of environmental activism through posters, ranging in style from whimsical to apocalyptic.

Tim Medland is an independent curator who focuses on the history of visual and material culture. He holds an MA in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester, with a concentration in socially engaged practice. His research interests include environmental activism and sustainability, and the histories of transport, propaganda, colonialism, and migration. 

This exhibition is supported by the Simons Foundation.

Wherever possible, the constructions for this exhibition have been made with Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) certified wood that will be saved for reuse. All glass will be donated to UrbanGlass. 


This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA).



Selected Images

A poster of collaged and painted images of a baby in a carriage and Atlas holding the globe.
Earth Summit ‘92, 1992
Robert Rauschenberg
Poster of a monkey pointing to a list of benefits about rainforests.
Man Needs Rain Forests Too, 1982
Tom Eckersley
A poster of a globe floating in the middle of a room.
Give Earth A Chance, 1970
Milton Glaser
A poster of a skull in a water glass being held by a hand.
Save Our Water, 1961
Hans Erni
A poster of a car emitting exhaust fumes stating
Save Energy, 1978
Per Arnoldi
A letterpress poster of the word
Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice, 2018
Amos Kennedy
A poster of a face made of roots and black raindrops falling on earth.
Save the Rain, 1983
Friedensreich Hundertwasser
A poster of porky pig wearing a gas mask with cursive text reading
That's All Folks!, 1971
Designer Unknown