A new museum is opening in Chelsea, Manhattan, that is focusing on an artform that is prevalent in the city, yet often overlooked: poster art. Poster House, as the name communicates, showcases posters from the late 1800s to present day. It is certainly not the first organization to zone in on this medium—many of the biggest fine art institutions have wings and stage large-scale exhibitions on this variant on graphic design—but Poster House is the first in the country to devote a space entirely to its study.
“Almost every art museum has a strong poster collection, and posters were frequently the subject of major shows throughout the 19th and 20th centuries,” says Angelina Lippert, chief curator at Poster House. “More recently, posters have become supplemental or supporting material in exhibitions, which is wonderful. However, posters as social objects, which generally tell us far more about a culture and a time than a painting, deserve an institution that places them center stage.”
The 14,500 square-foot museum was designed by LTL Architects and houses a permanent collection of over 7,000 posters that span two centuries. Additionally, Poster House will have two ever-changing exhibitions. “There’s just so much to cover,” says Julia Knight, the director of Poster House. “There are incredible and provocative posters from so many different locations covering film, sports, cultural events, product advertising, political movements, PSAs.”
Poster House is the brainchild of Val Crosswhite, a practicing artist who was discouraged by the lack of attention that posters were getting, and how their was no stand-alone institution in the U.S. that delved deep into how it serves as a clear reflection of the zeitgeist. So, in 2015, she incorporated the museum, and with a small group of supporters steadily garnered funding. Now, four years later, Poster House will open its doors to the public.
For the inaugural exhibitions, Poster House wanted to present one subject that was familiar to the masses, and another that was more esoteric. The former, “Alphonse Mucha: Art Nouvelle/Nouvelle Femme,” examines the work of one of the leading figures of the Belle Époque era, and reputedly the Michelangelo of graphic design. Mucha is celebrated for his stylized theater posters of Sarah Bernhardt and commissions for Moët-Chandon champagne and Nestlé baby food—bringing a heightened sense of fantasy with sinuous, exaggerated forms—that revolutionized commercial advertisements. On the other end of the spectrum, the museum is tackling the less-familiar Cyan, the East German design collective that formed after the fall of the Berlin Wall. For the retrospective “Designing Through the Wall: Cyan in the 1990s,” Knight aims to give visitors “a new take on something old, and a bite of something entirely new.”
Lippert went on to explain how a shift occurred in the ’70s and ’80s, when the trend in the market began to cater to artists as celebrities. It was no longer about the work per se, but the reputation and cult status that a creative has accrued. And since posters, in large part, are a form of advertising—used to sell goods or promote propaganda—the artist or team behind a design often plays second fiddle to the subject matter. This led many museums and auction houses, in particular, to close down departments, resulting in posters losing street cred in art academia.
“This is kind of why we need Poster House,” says Knight. “To really draw attention to these objects that get overlooked by both institutions and cultural consumers. Posters are one of the most ever-present artforms of the 20th and 21st centuries. In every city, they pepper the streets. They appear as background decor in nearly every movie and TV show. They’re in old photographs and books. They’re really everywhere.”
Poster House opens on June 20th at 119 West 23rd Street in New York.