How Posters Work
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI, March 31 – June 25, 2017, Curated by Ellen Lupton and Monica Obniski
Ellen Lupton is a designer, writer, curator, and educator whose publications such as Thinking with Type and Graphic Design: The New Basics have helped shape the attitudes and aptitude of a generation’s worth of graphic designers. Her latest book, How Posters Work, originated in as a sprawling exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, where she serves as curator of contemporary design. The book and exhibition places classic and contemporary posters in several plain-english categories to help viewers better understand the tropes and traditions that make posters impactful. In 2017, the exhibition got a second life at the Milwaukee Museum of Art thanks to Monica Obniski, curator of 20th and 21st Century Design. Having gotten our start as poster designers and printers, we were thrilled when offered the unique challenge of creating an identity and intervention for the exhibition’s Midwest debut. This exhibit coincided with our recent musings on the state of the graphic arts and we used our participation as a spring board to share our ideas of a Graphic Arts Future. While Ellen Lupton’s original exhibition painstakingly showcased the formal qualities that set posters apart, our contributions aimed to shift the dialogue to what these works say about our impending future and changing past. With a series of animations scattered throughout the gallery, we asked the audience (ever so covertly) to consider the formal qualities in the posters, but also the subtle messages left by the creator. For us, the rendering of form, choice of lines, and style of typeface are more than time capsules of bygone trends. They are the shape of humanity’s collective thoughts about itself and its future. Every graphic is a world we could one day live in.