MassArt presents poster exhibition curated by Elizabeth Resnick

Arts, Events

Writing on the Wall

By Matt Robinson

Posters have been used to communicate ideas for over 200 years. From “I Want You” to “Act Up,” some of the most powerful messages in history have been shared with more visual than textual information. While many appreciate posters as art, there is often more to them.

From January 15 through March 2 (with an opening reception January 29 from 6-8 PM), Massachusetts College of Art and Design ( will present a collection of over 120 of the most artistically and emotionally striking and effective posters from the past 10 years from more than 30 countries around the world.

The exhibition, entitled “Graphic Advocacy: International Posters for the Digital Age 2001–2012”, is being curated by Professor Elizabeth Resnick, Chair of MassArt’s Department of Graphic Design. It is the third and final installment in a trilogy of exhibitions focusing on socially conscious posters that also included “Graphic Imperative: International Posters of Peace, Social Justice and The Environment 1965–2005” ( and “Graphic Intervention: International AIDS Awareness Posters 1985–2010” (“Each of the three poster exhibitions has a clearly defined point-of-view,” Resnick suggested in an earlier interview with Steve Heller . “The intent was to collect a select retrospective of 40 years of international sociopolitical posters showcasing themes that included dissent, liberation, racism, sexism, human rights, civil rights, environmental and health concerns, AIDS, war, literacy and tolerance, with the hope they collectively the work would provide a window to an age of great change.”

After publishing a book featuring her beloved posters in March of 2011, Resnick had to be careful to find new images so even fans of her previous exhibitions could come back and be moved all over again. “I was determined to conceive a new ‘angle’ of exploring sociopolitical poster design,” she explained. And though she admits that there is “quite a bit of time overlap” among the three shows in the trilogy, each show has had different themes, which range from responses to political movements to the response to AIDS. As the new show focuses on the so-called “Digital Age,” the Internet plays a major role in shaping not only how the potters look but what they depict and how they were distributed. “Designers who are active in creating ‘socially engaged’ work do distribute this work via Internet sites,” Resnick notes.

Technology has evolved, and so too has the message posters impart. “Poster design has evolved to reflect changing conditions in our world,” Resnick suggests. Even so, she says, there are some core elements that make a poster “work” for her and make her want to include it in her shows. “What draws me toward a particular poster is its creative thought, artistic experiment, inventiveness, and timelessness,” Resnick explains, observing how many of the most powerful posters from eras past continue to impact and influence visual art and messaging today.

Another consistent element of poster art is its enduring impact and how it continues to work as a medium even as technologies and messages change. “Who among us has not been deceived and manipulated to choose one brand over another, one item over another, based on what we have seen and heard in magazines, newspapers, billboards, television commercials, the Internet, and yes, in posters installed on advertising kiosks and bus stop shelters,” Resnick asks. “Today, whether a poster is physical or digital doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. What matters most is the poster conveys its message to the audience in which it is directed.”


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