How MOMA Displays Rock Posters

On April 8, 2016, in News, Posters, by Ben Marks


As someone who has been guilty of grouping great numbers of rock posters together for an exhibition, the following may sound like the pot calling the kettle black. But to my eye, it looks like the curators at MOMA in New York just barfed up as much stuff as they could onto a wall of their current “From the Collection: 1960-1969” exhibition, as this photo from the New York Times shows. I’m trying to imagine the curators giving a similar Tetris treatment to a collection of pieces by Alphonse Mucha and Jules Cheret, but I cannot. Here, head-shop posters by Joseph McHugh are crammed next to pieces by Michael English, Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, Bonnie MacLean, Victor Moscoso, Wes Wilson, Bob Schnepf, Bob Fried, John Myers, Gary Essert, and Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse. I suppose we should be grateful that MOMA is not being willfully blind to the importance of this work in the 1960s, but this presentation seems to indicate that the institution still does not know what to do with it.


6 Responses to How MOMA Displays Rock Posters

  1. David Jensen says:

    …yeah, way too much blotter…

  2. Neil Rice says:

    I think that display looks great and exactly how posters of the era were ‘bill stickered’ publicly and offered for sale in head shops. Did they cover the ceiling too? Let’s not get too precious about the wonderful times some of us were fortunate enough to enjoy.

  3. Gary Westford says:

    MOMA’s salon style approach to hanging these psychedelic posters does remind me of what my bedroom wall looked like when I lived In the Haight in 1969. When the Whitney Museum did their “Summer of Love” show in 2007, they used a similar salon style arrangement that made it almost impossible to identify the work of any single artist. Sadly, these arrangements provide great heat, but no light is shed on the individual artists who made them, or their use of personal iconographic style. Beyond the overt “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” sensual overstimulation impact of these displays, nothing is revealed about the cultural watershed backstory of personal and social liberation, or the idealized hopes that the doors of perception were being opened in San Francisco in the 1960’s. To that end, it would overtly appear (having not yet seen the MOMA exhibition), that the museum has failed, except in the most superficial of eye candy ways. They give us -Lots of heat… No illumination.

    In the summer of 2017 (dates TBA) I will be curating a major exhibition of about one hundred 1960s posters in “Behind the Beyond: The Psychedelic Poster Era in San Francisco 1966-71” at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, Oregon. This exhibition will then travel to the Museum at Bethel Woods at Woodstock, New York in May-December 2018. The center piece for these exhibitions will be Bob Fried’s 10 x 22 ft billboard done for Chet Helms Family Dog in 1969. This exhibition will mark the first time that a major display of posters from the west coast revolution in San Francisco is displayed at the site of Woodstock.

    • Lance Michel says:

      I couldn’t have put it better or more succinctly Gary…Thanks man!

      And Break a leg with the exhibit!! Sounds Wonderful! 🙂

      I have been toying with the idea of Opening a Poster Art store, in the vein of The Psychedelic Solution, here in Jersey City for a while now…I am hoping to make progress on that this year 🙂

      Cheers!! And Happy Trails…

      Peace, Lancealot

  4. Joseph Magil says:

    MOMA may have been inspired by how these posters were displayed in many bedrooms (also the Fillmore) in the 1960s, but the fact is that stacking posters up so high makes it impossible for viewers to see any details. When these posters were originally displayed, they were posted at eye level so people could read them. Another thing missing is the labels that are normally placed on the wall next to works of art in order to identify them. This is just another example of how the establishment still hates what happened in the 60s. Also, museums and galleries don’t like cheap, mass produced art. They prefer limited-edition prints that can be sold at high prices. After the concerts, many of these posters could be picked up for free off the counters of local record stores. They were truly the art of the people, which museums hate. They are elitist institutions and are never critical of the art of the elites that they display. In fact, they never even tell people that they only display the art of the elites. This way, they depict elite culture as the culture that all must aspire to.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Having been to the exhibit, what you see there is just a facsimile wallpaper for an effect. There are at least one hundred posters at eye level with appropriate explanations and credits.

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