The Daily Heller: Comparing Poster House’s Current Exhibits

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There is an interesting, if unintentional, conversation occurring between the two current exhibitions at Poster House, The Push Pin Legacy and You Won’t Bleed Me: How Blaxploitation Defined Cool & Delivered Profits (both on view until Feb. 6). The former (curated by Angelina Lippert) is about transforming the 1950s Postwar American dream world through colorful, conceptual graphic design, and the latter (curated by Adam Howard) is about replacing subservient Jim Crow–era racist cliches with images of power and cunning.

The two shows (engagingly designed by Ola Baldych) do not share any specific crossover or categorical relationships, yet each, in its own way, presents key pop cultural benchmarks and sheds light from different angles on shifts in public wants and needs.

Push Pin visually represented the burgeoning youth-oriented consumer and entertainment culture (with some timely political commentary thrown in for good measure) during the ’60s and ’70s. The Blacksploitation genre created new stereotypes, an assertive breed of cinematic style and antihero action stars during the ’70s.

While Push Pin produced novel visual languages for book covers, record albums, advertisements and posters for a predominately white mainstream base, Blacksploitation film posters employed a hyper-realistic, ultra-heroic illustration idiom that had long existed as the go-to style for ostensibly white-audience detective, mystery, thriller and horror films.

Included in The Push Pin Legacy are theater, concert and performance posters by James McMullan, Paul Davis and Push Pin’s founders, Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast, working in a contemporaneously reinterpreted “retro” that makes a strong statement about how graphic design emerged at that time, when much mainstream graphic art was staid. Like a butterfly freed from a cocoon, Push Pin* challenged American realism with bright colors and fantastical images. Meanwhile, the Blacksploitation posters were revolutionary in another confrontational way.

Each exhibit stands on its own, and although my admittedly pedantic interpretation is not suggested by the curators, I cannot help but ponder the two concurrent shows as kind of pop culture yin and yang. The Push Pin show, appearing in the brightly lit main gallery, reveals the impact of the studio’s optimistic experimental ethos on a ’60s Baby Boomer demographic and pop world. The Blacksploitation poster show, which fills a more claustrophobic venue, suggests that these provocative, commercially popular films and posters are attempting to obliterate infuriating cliches and tear down the confining walls.

While Poster House’s staff routinely does a splendid job designing their spaces, the juxtaposition of these two very different experiences is particularly effective, whether it was deliberate or not.

*Push Pin was renamed Pushpin as the studio’s work became more recognized.