Sign of the Times: The Great American Political Poster, 1844–2012

The political campaign poster had its humble beginnings in the 1840s when the new lithographic printing process, largely developed in Germany, was developed to satisfy a growing demand for printed material. Hand-colored portraits of presidential and vice-presidential candidates were first printed for the 1844 race between Whig Party candidate Henry Clay and the eventual winner, James K. Polk of the Democratic Party.

Technological innovation in the lithographic process in the 1880s ushered in the golden age of lithography, roughly 1890–1912 which produced some the of the most intricate and colorful posters in the exhibition.

World War II saw a huge outpouring of posters offered by 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. However, a marvelous new design element that became popular at the time was the “floating head” poster, and several for candidates Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Goldwater are included in the exhibition.

The left-wing counterculture revolution of the 1960s was awash in civil rights, psychedelia and anti-war posters that 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 was a virtual explosion of exciting political art. The offset printed poster was the more frequent, but many famous artists, such as Alexander Calder and Peter Max, screenprinted limited editions that helped fund campaigns. Hundreds of posters were created by well-known artists, illustrators, and often by inspired first time poster makers.

After the graphically exciting 1972 presidential campaign, future contests produced only a few outstanding posters in each election cycle. However, the Democrat’s nomination of Barack Obama in 2008 heralded a renaissance of the form, as many artists—insiders, outsiders, and the famous—jumped on the candidate’s bandwagon. In fact, in 2008 it looked as if the great American political poster had at last solidified its place in future campaigns. Unfortunately, it was not to be; in 2012 the creation of exciting innovative posters tapered off sharply from the previous presidential election cycle.

Historically the American political poster has been sorely neglected as an art form and has played 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 has made every effort to bring eye-popping political graphics to the to the forefront and to show the great American political poster as art.

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Availability

Sign of the Times is touring February 2016 through January 2021. The dates below reflect five-week exhibition periods. Dates are subject to change; please contact MoreArt@maaa.org or (800) 473-3872 x208/209 for current availability.

  • November 6–December 4, 2015 The Culture Lab at Mid-America Arts Alliance
    Kansas City, MO
    booked
  • February 3–March 10, 2016 Sixth Floor Museum
    Dallas, TX
    booked
  • March 25–April 30, 2016 Edmond Historical Society
    Edmond, OK
    booked
  • May 15–August 16, 2016 Upcountry History Museum
    Greenville, SC
    booked
  • September 1–October 5, 2016 Kansas City Public Library
    Kansas City, MO
    booked
  • October 21–November 30, 2016 Temecula Valley Museum
    Temecula, CA
    booked
  • December 15, 2016–January 19, 2017 Nebraska State Historical Society
    Lincoln, NE
    booked
  • February 3–March 10, 2017 Moses Lake Museum & Arts Center
    Moses Lake, WA
    booked
  • March 25–April 30, 2017 Oxford Performing Arts Center
    Oxford, AL
    pending
  • May 15–August 16, 2017 Museum of Printing HIstory
    Houston, TX
    booked
  • September 1–October 5, 2017 Refurbishment
    Kansas City, MO
    booked
  • October 21–November 30, 2017 Panola College
    Carthage, TX
    booked
  • December 15, 2017–January 19, 2018 Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum
    Temple, TX
    booked
  • February 3–March 10, 2018 Sioux City Public Museum
    Sioux City, IA
    booked
  • March 25–April 30, 2018
    available
  • May 15–June 20, 2018 Spartanburg Public Library
    Spartenburg, SC
    booked
  • July 5–August 16, 2018 Living History Farms
    Urbandale, IA
    booked
  • September 1, 2018–January 20, 2019 Reading Public Museum
    Reading, PA
    booked
  • February 3–March 10, 2019 Southwestern Adventist University
    Keene, TX
    booked
  • March 25–April 30, 2019 Elmhurst Historical Museum
    Elmhurst, IL
    booked
  • May 15–June 20, 2019
    available
  • July 5–August 16, 2019
    available
  • September 1–October 5, 2019 Louisiana's Old State Capitol
    Baton Rouge, LA
    booked
  • October 21–November 30, 2019
    available
  • December 15, 2019–January 19, 2020
    available
  • February 3–April 30, 2020 Saint Mary's College Museum of Art
    Moraga, CA
    booked
  • May 15–June 20, 2019
    available
  • July 5–August 16, 2020
    available
  • September 1–October 5, 2020 Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies
    Athens, GA
    booked
  • October 21–November 30, 2020 Lynchburg College
    Lynchburg, VA
    pending
  • December 15, 2020–January 19, 2021
    available

Exhibition Details

50 posters

  • Content

    Fee Includes
    Press Kit
    Registrar’s Packet
    Programming Guide
    Text Panels
    Narrative Labels
    Full Insurance
    Installation Instructions
    Custom-Designed and Built Crates

  • Curated By

    Hal Wert, Ph.D., professor of history, Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, MO

  • Organized By

    ExhibitsUSA, Mid-America Arts Alliance, Kansas City, MO

  • Out-of-Region Rental Fee

    $2,550

  • In-Region Rental Fee

    $1275 before July 1, 2017 and $1785 after July 1, 2017

  • Duration

    5-week display

  • Shipping

    Van Line

  • Running Feet

    230

  • Square Feet

    -

  • Security

    Moderate B

  • Number of Crates/Total Weight

    5 crates/1,420 pounds

  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by ExhibitsUSA at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.