The United States has museums dedicated to everything from sex to spycraft to UFOs, but if Americans wanted to delve into one of the world’s most popular art forms, they were out of luck – until now.
Founded in 2015 and finally opened this June, New York’s Poster House is the country’s first institution devoted to poster art. With a living archive of historically or aesthetically important examples of the form, as well as a selection of themed rotating exhibits, the new museum explores the impact of the popular mass-media communication device on the public domain. “While there are other poster museums around the world, they are largely focused on their particular national heritage, or a certain style,” says director Julia Knight. “Poster House was created to showcase posters from all over the world, from the late 1800s through contemporary use.”
The wheelchair-accessible museum debuted with two exhibits, both on until early October. The first focuses on the art nouveau stylings of Czech-born artist Alphonse Mucha, whose painterly posters are practically synonymous with a Paris on the cusp of the 20th century, and the other is a deep-dive into the output of 1990s-era German design agency Cyan, one of the first teams to incorporate desktop publishing software like Photoshop into their work. (In the pipeline are an exhibit on the golden age of hand-painted Ghanaian movie posters and a look at the political signage on display at the 2017 Women’s March.) There are also kid-friendly events, like flower-crown workshops, and adult offerings like an after-hours drink and draw. Permanent interactive features include a photo booth that lets the visitor literally put themselves on a poster, a giant billboard that they can see up close, and a digital display of favorites from the archive.
The latest entrant in the city’s roster of unique and specific artistic institutions, Poster House is the brainchild of Valerie Crosswhite, the museum’s president and a creative in her own right. “She’s long had an interest in design and public messaging, stemming from her experience as a practicing artist herself,” Knight says. But as enthusiastic as she might have been about the concept, it took years for Crosswhite’s vision to come to fruition. “The process of opening a museum is standing in front of the floodgates,” Knight says. “As for road bumps, there were approximately one million at every step along the way. But they just teach you and, in the best of circumstances, give you an appreciation of the absurd way things can fall apart – but of course, we find a way to put them back together.”
Museum staffers dodged those potholes, choosing to remain focused on the mission itself rather than factors beyond their control. “The biggest pleasure was learning about the medium and understanding just how fascinating posters are,” says Knight. “They are clues to past societies and tastes, interpreted by looking closely at the materials used, printing techniques, style, typography, and products. From that appreciation, you can build a mission with meaning that guides you, grows enthusiasm, and drives you to present something unique and exciting for the public.”