The Psychedelic 60s: Posters from the Rock Era at the Toledo Museum

Of all the visual art produced in the late 1960s, the most influential may be San Francisco psychedelic concert posters. Many are instantly recognizable because of their innovative use of text, psychedelic colors and coded messages. Not only do the posters visually define the period, but they also have shaped graphic design ever since.

This summer the Toledo Museum of Art is spotlighting these influential posters in a special exhibition. Some 150 posters from The Houston Freeburg Collection will be seen in The Psychedelic 60s: Posters From the Rock Era in the Museum’s Canaday Gallery from June 11 through Sept. 12. Admission is free.

The highly collectible posters will rock the memories of many baby boomers while introducing newer generations to American popular culture symbols from the era of acid rock, free love and war protests.

Influenced by the surrealist, art nouveau, pop and op art movements, the artists include the legendary Wes Wilson, “father” of the 1960s’ rock poster movement; giants Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelly, whose work is strongly tied to the custom car and hot rod movement; Victor Moscoso, creator of the logo for the Family Dog, a collective that sponsored some of the earliest psychedelic concerts; Bonnie MacLean, wife of Fillmore concert promoter Bill Graham; Detroit graphic designer David Singer, and Lee Conklin, who made more than 30 posters to promote acts at the Fillmore.

The musicians who played at the Avalon Ballroom, the Fillmore East and West and other venues are recognizable, too: Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, the Byrds, Fleetwood Mac, Cream, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Joan Baez and others.

Of special note are 50 posters with fluorescent or phosphorescent colors that glow in the dark and represent the height of black light design. The themes often relate to the racial, sexual, political, feminist and drug issues then whirling through American society.

“Certainly there is a popular appeal to this exhibition, but there also is real art historical substance as well,” says Amy Gilman, the Museum’s associate curator of contemporary and modern art. “These artists and their work had a very profound influence on graphic design and actually all print media since that time,” she contends.

In mounting the exhibition, the Museum has taken care to replicate the atmosphere of the late sixties through sound, staging and lighting, including the use of black light when appropriate, so viewers become immersed in elements of the counter-culture the posters depict.

“There are many artists, many styles and a good range of bands,” notes Gilman. “A lot of people did Jimi Hendrix posters, and you’ll see how different people had a different take on him. The black light posters are really varied. Some have a handmade look, showing their underground roots. The exhibition presents a great window on that time period.”

The Psychedelic 60s poster exhibition and related programming are made possible in part by KeyBank.

Image: Wes Wilson, Venue: Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA, Date: December 9–11, 1966, Performers: Grateful Dead, Big Mama Mae Thornton, Tim Rose (BG041), Collection of Houston Freeburg. © Wes Wilson

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