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Modern and Contemporary Posters
22 awe-inspiring designs

The recent past is rich with cultural and historic landmarks—and, of course, fantastically creative posters that commemorate them. From Swiss Minimalism to Woodstock, General Dynamics to Andy Warhol, the 20th century is a fountain of inspiration.

160. Anatomy of a Murder. ca. 1985.
Artist: Saul Bass (1921-1996)
25 1/4 x 35 3/8 in./64.2 x 89.8 cm
Est: $1,700-$2,000

“Bass’ trademark for this 1959 film, which centers on a murder trial, is a stylized image of a human body made up of separate parts, each looking as if it was cut out of paper. The pun at the heart of the trademark is the parallel between ‘anatomy’ as the structure of the body, and ‘anatomy’ as the dissection of a body of evidence in a court of law. The various body parts evoke the various fragments of evidence presented in court. Each is irregular around the edges and, although they are positioned adjacent to one another, they do not quite align, just as the evidence about the murder and the motives involved fail to add up” (Film/Art Gallery website). This is the first and only printing of this design.

163. American Graffiti. ca. 1974.
Artist: Anonymous
47 1/4 x 62 7/8 in./120 x 159.7 cm
Est: $1,000-$1,200

Francis Ford Coppola challenged George Lucas to write a script that would appeal to mainstream audiences, and “American Graffiti” was the result. Though it wasn’t incredibly successful upon release, the film later gained steam, becoming one of the most profitable films of all time—and a cult favorite in France, where this promotion was produced. Lucas’ semi-autobiographical script follows a group of high school friends on their last day of summer break in 1962 California. It starred RIchard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul le Mat, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark, Mackenzie Phillips, Cindy Williams, and Wolfman Jack.

259. Woodstock Music & Art Fair. 1969.
Artist: David Edward Byrd (1941- )
13 5/8 x 22 3/8 in./34.6 x 56.8 cm
Est: $1,200-$1,500

This seldom seen design is the original poster for the Woodstock festival that would go on to become a cultural phenomenon. When the venue was changed from the town of Wallkill to Max Yasgur’s private farm at the last minute, a new poster had to be commissioned to redirect attendees (see PAI-LXVI, 472). Unfortunately, Byrd had just left for a month-long trip to a remote town in the Caribbean and was unreachable by phone, which left this design to wallow in obscurity despite its far greater artistic merits. But it’s a poignant time to revisit Byrd’s Ingres-inspired design; Woodstock celebrated its 50th anniversary in August of this year.

304. CCCP / USA Superman. 1968.
Artist: Roman Cieslewicz (1930-1996)
21 3/4 x 32 in./55.2 x 81.4 cm
Est: $800-$1,000

Although intended to spark Modernist dialogue about improving the future, Cieslewicz’s graphic pop art imagery could just as well have been designed for our contemporary time. Though the CCCP, or Soviet Union, may not exist in quite the same way, the characterization of Russia and the United States as charging Supermen resounds as an apt hyperbole. Cieslewicz was the graphic designer and cover illustrator for the avant-garde French publication, Opus International. Headed by art critics, the publication aimed to open the art world up to a new era, and geared itself towards those “…for whom the present is a function of a future of which they do not want to be disappointed.” This cover was designed for the June, 1968 issue, and was simultaneously released as a poster.

320. Martini & Rossi. ca. 1955.
Artist: Marcello Dudovich (1878-1962)
27 1/4 x 39 5/8 in./69.2 x 100.7 cm
Est: $2,500-$3,000

“The oldest poster of the Martini Rossi collection is also the most famous and perhaps the most beautiful: the ‘Vermouth’ designed by Dudovich in 1918. Dudovich, a master of immediate and pleasant communication, almost always used the woman as a subject, aware of the attractiveness of the female figure: his women were elegant, clean, with simple gestures, so as to arouse the attention of women too. The woman in white made for Martini & Rossi is an ideal mannequin: the candid girl holding a glass in her hand exerts a subtle suggestion to the observer, [who becomes] fascinated by the advertising image” (Martini & Rossi, p. 8). The company would later reprint Dudovich’s 1918 design for this ca. 1955 white vermouth promotion.

331. De Stijl / Israel Museum. 1977.
Artist: Izika Gaon (1938-1997) And Varda Raz (1947- )
27 x 38 1/2 in./68.5 x 97.7 cm
Est: $800-$1,000

Even in this flattened front-facing perspective, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld’s iconic chair is immediately recognizable. Originally designed with standard wood elements painted black, white, and gray, he was eventually swayed by the De Stijl movement’s penchant for saturated colors (especially as seen in the paintings of Piet Mondrian); in 1923, Rietveld applied the colors we see depicted here. His conceptual design was one of the first three-dimensional works in this movement. Israeli curator Izika Gaon designed this aptly geometric promotion for an exhibition of De Stijl works at the Israel Museum in 1977. The poster also resides in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City.

348. Crack Down! 1986.
Artist: Keith Haring (1958-1990)
17 1/8 x 22 in./43.4 x 56 cm
Est: $1,000-$1,200

“In 1984, Haring had employed a young assistant who became addicted to crack. His struggle with the drug prompted Haring to come up with an idea for a large-scale mural in East Harlem, directly on the FDR Drive” (Haring Posters, p. 114). This poster was created at the same time, and was used to help promote the 1986 “Crackdown on Crack” benefit concert in New York City. Bill Graham, the famed music promoter, organized the event to raise funds to combat the crack cocaine epidemic in New York.

371. U.S.A. Surpasses all the Genocide Records! 1966.
Artist: George Maciunas (1931-1978)
34 1/2 x 21 3/8 in./87.8 x 54.3 cm
Est: $2,000-$2,500

Maciunas was a founding member of Fluxus, an international interdisciplinary art movement that prioritized the conceptual and the process-oriented. While much of the work that came out of this group was radical, this is perhaps Maciuna’s most blatantly political work. He collaborated with Yoko Ono and John Lennon to produce this poster in an unnumbered edition; those curious to learn more could submit a letter to the address listed at bottom (the official Fluxus address) to receive an essay of calculations bearing the same title. It’s a fantastic evolution of the poster medium—momentary provocation is developed into an actual interaction, an exchange, and ideally, dialogue. A blind stamp, at lower right, reads “Lennon-Ono Original Gallery Ad. Certified 1970-1974.” It also bears the initials HI written in pen.

415. General Dynamics / Exploring the Universe / Basic Forces. 1956.
Artist: Erik Nitsche (1908-1998)
36 1/8 x 50 1/4 in./91.7 x 127.5 cm
Est: $1,400-$1,700

Given the high-security risks at stake in General Dynamics’ programming, Nitsche faced a design challenge: to create appealing images without disclosing any actual mechanics. Steven Heller wrote of this piece, “One particularly Klee-inspired poster with a somewhat enigmatic subtitle, ‘basic forces,’ was a abstract design of the sea (wavy dotted lines), space (dots and dotted lines representing constellations in the sky) and the sun (a white circle with a red center, like an eye) set against a gradated background (much like one of Nitsche’s earlier split fountains). In addition to his artistic inspirations, Nitsche derived much of his imagery from science itself” (I Heart Design, p. 55).

507. Orangina. 1984.
Artist: Bernard Villemot (1911-1989)
93 1/4 x 62 5/8 in./236.7 x 159.2 cm
Est: $4,000-$5,000

Villemot created several memorable campaigns for mineral waters—Perrier, Contrex and Vichy—but none so memorable as his thirty-plus year association with Orangina, the lightly-carbonated, slightly pulpy orange drink. Beginning in 1953 with an image showing a spiraling orange peel serving as a cafe-table umbrella, he animated change after change on the orange spiral, never repeating himself in twenty-some posters and never ceasing to delight with his sunny, sophisticated inventions. This 2-sheet design casts the peel in the role of a power core, energizing the four shoreline dancers who have transformed from mere mortals into energized beings composed of pure citrus potency.

514. Absolut Vodka. 1985.
Artist: Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
37 3/8 x 45 in./95 x 114.3 cm
Est: $2,000-$2,500

This emblem of contemporary advertising was Warhol’s second project for Carillon Importers Ltd. “It was Warhol this time who, at a dinner in 1985, convinced Carillon’s president, Michel Roux, to give him the commission to do a ‘portrait’ of the bottle: ‘Enthralled by the artfulness of the Absolut bottle [Warhol] reminds him that while he doesn’t drink alcohol he sometimes uses Absolut as a perfume.’ … Roux did not impose aesthetic guidelines on Warhol’s commission, and he was shocked upon seeing the outcome. [But] by using black, Warhol cleverly circumvented the unsightly distortion and refraction of light on transparent glass, which would have been accentuated on such a large poster” (Warhol Posters, p. 120 & 123). Absolut was still relatively new at the time, and Warhol’s promotion certainly helped increase distribution. This printing is a rare, limited edition lithograph commissioned from Leslie Enterprises as a special gift exclusively for Carillon executives. It was printed in an edition of 50.

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