While researching poster art for my virtual poster display, I’ve stumbled upon some great online collections. They’re hard to find, because great posters are mostly privately owned or buried in a museum vault, invisible except for the occasional book or auction catalog. Here’s some of the best I’ve found online so far. I’ll continue to add to this list:
How Posters Work: The Cooper-Hewitt Collection. This stunning set of 172 images is from an exhibition Cooper-Hewitt mounted in 2015.
In their words: “How Posters Work demonstrates how some of the world’s most creative designers have employed and pushed the boundaries of two-dimensional design, harnessed the mechanics and psychology of perception, and mastered the art of storytelling to produce powerful acts of visual communication. Many of the posters on view are the work of revered American designers, such as Paul Rand, Ivan Chermayeff, and Milton Glaser.”
Oakland Museum of California Political Posters. This collection of over 24,000 political posters is extremely impressive. Try the list view for browsing as well.
In their words, the posters come “from all streams of progressive activity — from movements of protest, liberation, and affirmative action, trade union and community struggles, to electoral and environmental organizing, community services, and visionary manifestos.” Artists represented include Malaquías Montoya, Emory Douglas, Rachael Romero, Rupert Garcia, Yolanda Lopez, Favianna Rodriguez, Carlos Cortez, Nancy Hom, Juan Fuentes, and Jos Sances, as well as material from collective workshops such as La Raza Silkscreen, the Royal Chicano Air Force, Japantown Art and Media, Kearny Street Workshop, and Inkworks Press.
London Transport Museum Posters. This collection includes over 5,000 posters organized by theme. They also have a really cool (if superfluous) feature which allows you to browse the posters by color.
In their words: “For 100 years, since Frank Pick commissioned the first graphic poster for London Underground, the company and its successors have kept copies of everything they produced. In the early 20th century, under Pick’s guidance, London Transport commissioned work from the best artists and designers in the country.”
Slanted.de Cuban Poster Archive. This online exhibit was assembled to accompany Slanted Magazine’s Issue #21 entitled ‘Cuba, The New Generation,’ which featured contemporary Cuban poster art, photography, illustration and typography. The online archive focuses on individual artists going back to the 1960s (there’s also a Facebook page).
In their words: “Revolution or evolution? Fall or rise? Whorehouse or paradise? Cola or guarapo? Marlboro or Cohiba? Beans or lobster? Freedom or Guantanamo? Track suit or tie? Internet or carrier pigeon? Salsa or rap? Old-timer or Turbo? Museum or future-lab? Work or none? Hope or exile? Or a mix of all of these queries? It’s different than we think – much more complicated, deep and full of surprises. Reason enough to dedicate the 21st issue of Slanted Magazine to a young generation of Cuban designers and artists.”
Posters for the People WPA Poster Archive. This impressive crowdsourced archive has done a great job rescuing thousands of WPA-era posters from obscurity, cataloguing and putting them online. They’ve also published a book.
In their words: “Posters for the People is a ‘People’s Initiative’ started in 2002 and dedicated to building the most comprehensive record of the posters created under the New Deal’s Federal Art Project. Posters for the People searches private and public holdings to create the most comprehensive Web-based database of known posters – a living archive. We preserve our American graphic design heritage through research, outreach, site visits, photography, and archiving.”
Zurich Museum of Design (Gestaltung) Poster Collection. This incredible poster collection from around the world is available via the eMuseum, a collaboration between the Zurich University of the Arts and the Museum of Design Zurich.
A good place to start browsing may be these 118 curated poster exhibits, which cover a wide range of subjects from psychedelic rock posters to typographic posters to Russian movie posters. There are also extensive search options and you can browse the eMuseum generally using preselected keywords. FYI – Plakatsammlung means poster in German.
Dutch and American circus poster collections. There are two great circus poster collection online: Circusmuseum.nl and the Ringling Museum of Art Collection.
The Dutch collection is worlds better, because it’s interface is great, while Ringling’s is slow and clunky. Assembled by Dutch collector Jaap Best, the collection includes 8,000 stunning posters from all over the world organized by theme, including 3,500 color lithographs by the Hamburg printer Adolph Friedländer. The Ringling Collection showcases almost 5,000 circus posters, and is part of the larger John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, affiliated with Florida State University.
Center for the Study of Political Graphics. This database showcases 2,600 of the CSPG’s collection of 85,000 domestic and international political posters and prints relating to historical and contemporary social movements. Browse by subject or artist, or search by keyword. Also check out some of their curated exhibitions.
I like their mission statement: “Reclaiming the power of art to educate and inspire people to action.” CSPG apparently relies on individual donors to build their collection, and also receives funding from federal, state and local arts organizations.
Posters on Google. Find posters via Google Arts and Culture’s massive meta-database of works from museums around the world. Simply search for the keyword ‘posters’ and you’ll find over 3,600 individual posters, two hundred exhibits featuring posters, and 200+ thematically crowd-curated user galleries with posters. The user galleries mostly feature war and propaganda posters, but also cover a wide range of other topics. You’ll find yourself following your nose to many other interesting sites served by Google’s partners, for example AIGA’s Design Journeys.
You can of course also search for art posters with a Google image query; This will fill in the gaps with a lot of more commercial (e.g. movie and music) posters that tend to be for sale online rather (vs. in museum databases).
Christchurch 1980s Rock Posters. From the poster archives of Christchurch City Libraries in New Zealand comes this small but fun collection of local rock posters assembled for New Zealand Music Month in 2007.
The Christchurch Libraries site also includes a small but interesting collection of anti-apartheid protest posters from the 1981 visit of the South African Springboks rugby team, which caused, in their words, “greatest civil disturbance in that century.” The libraries also offer about a dozen other high quality image collections, ranging from cartoons to postcards to a livestock photo gallery.
Berkeley Protest Posters at the University of British Columbia. See my detailed blog post on this topic, including these 250 examples at UBC.
This exhibit, in their own words, is “concerned with the advocacy for peace, equality, and harmony during the Vietnam War era from the University of California’s Berkeley campus and other regions in the San Francisco Bay Area. The posters were all produced between the years of 1968 and 1973, a period in which the social and political climate both in the United States and South East Asia provided the genesis of tension that is seen throughout the collection.”