Exhibit Surveys the Visual Cues of the American Political Poster

Moraga, California— Hiding in plain sight, the American political poster attempts to catch our eyes and influence voters through the use of visual language.

In a survey exhibit that spans the life of these ubiquitous messengers, Sign of the Times: The Great American Political Poster 1844–2012 explores a variety of styles, design trends, and printing technology that engage visitors’ imaginations and highlight 168 years of political commitments.  Featuring over 35 posters, Sign of the Times is on view from February 12 through May 3, 2020 at Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art (SMCMoA). The exhibit reception is free and open to the public on February 20 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

Sign of the Times reveals and follows the story of the political campaign poster, tracing its roots to the 1840s as new lithographic processes developed to satisfy the growing demand for printed material. The 1844 race between Whig Henry Clay and the eventual winner, Democrat James K. Polk experienced the first hand-colored portraits of presidential and vice-presidential candidates. Technological innovation in the 1880s ushered in the golden age of lithography, producing intricate and colorful posters.

The WWII era ushered in a massive outpour of posters created under the Roosevelt administration and included several key Democratic Party campaign posters designed by famous artists like Ben Shahn and James Montgomery Flagg. ­­The international style that pervaded the 1950s rarely affected the campaign poster, an era in which cheap letterpress and offset “boxing style” posters were de rigueur. Instead, a new design element, the “floating head” popularized the campaigns and depicted several candidates including Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Goldwater.

Awash in civil rights, psychedelia, and anti-war posters, the 1960s left-wing counterculture revolution culminated in the creation of some of the finest campaign posters, many of which appeared in the 1968 Democratic primary campaign of Eugene McCarthy. The George McGovern campaign that followed in 1972 created a virtual explosion of exciting political art.  Well-known artists, illustrators, and first-time poster makers contributed through offset printed posters, which appeared more frequently. Albeit, many famous artists such as Alexander Calder and Andy Warhol screen-printed limited editions to help fund campaigns.

In 2008, the political poster experienced a renaissance of form with the Democrats’ nomination of Barack Obama, as many artists—insiders, outsiders, and the famous—jumped on the candidate’s bandwagon. Indeed, 2008 looked as if the great American political poster would solidify its place in future campaigns. Unfortunately, in 2012 the creation of exciting innovative posters tapered off sharply from the previous presidential election cycle.

Sorely neglected as an art form, the American political poster represented a minor cultural role despite its effectiveness in conveying a political message to millions of voters often through the skillful use of visual communication. Sign of the Times makes every effort to bring eye-popping political graphics to the forefront and show the great American political poster as art. Sign of the Times is curated by Hal Wert, Ph.D., collector and professor of history at Kansas City Art Institute, and organized by Exhibits USA/Mid-America Arts Alliance.


Exhibition Organizers:

About ExhibitsUSA

This exhibition is toured by ExhibitsUSA, a national program of Mid-America Arts Alliance. ExhibitsUSA sends more than 25 exhibitions on tour to over 100 small- and mid-sized communities every year. These exhibitions create access to an array of arts and humanities experiences, nurture the understanding of diverse cultures and art forms, and encourage the expanding depth and breadth of cultural life in local communities. For more about ExhibitsUSA, email MoreArt@maaa.org or visit www.eusa.org.

About Mid-America Arts Alliance

Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA) strengthens and supports artists, cultural organizations, and communities throughout our region and beyond. We achieve this primarily through our national traveling exhibition programs, innovative leadership development, and strategic grant making. We are especially committed to enriching the cultural life of historically underserved communities by providing high quality, meaningful, and accessible arts and culture programs and services. Each year M-AAA’s programs, on average, reach one million people. We believe in more art for more people. Additional information about M-AAA is available at www.maaa.org.  


About Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art

Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art is an educational, nonprofit resource that acts on the belief that art illuminates our lives and creates a more humane world. We affirm our institutional mission to develop the whole person. We are committed to fostering curiosity and wonder through exhibitions, collections, and programs. We bridge regional art, interests, and the world. We cultivate cultural discovery, bringing people and art together. The Museum offers free admissions and programs to all. Open to the public, Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Please check the website, http://www.stmarys-ca.edu/museum  for related programming and happenings. Extended hours occur on Third Thursday and special programmed events. The Museum is closed the week of Easter, April 8 through 12, 2020.

Roy Lichtenstein, 1992 Democratic Party candidates Bill Clinton and Al Gore, offset lithography, courtesy of private collection




















Roy Lichtenstein, 1992 Democratic Party candidates Bill Clinton and Al Gore, offset lithography, courtesy of private collection.




Saint Mary's College Museum of Art (SMCMoA)

Media Contact: Britt Royer

925.631.4493 | blr7@stmarys-ca.edu