Cutting Through the Visual Noise

Here in New York City we have a tremendous amount of noise – most of it aural, but some is visual. Blinking screens on every commercial street and in the subway stations, messages scrolling across signs on food carts or in store windows, even in elevators there are little screens showing everything from the weather forecast to sports scores, not to mention what floor you’re passing by. It’s a hell of a lot to take in, so most of us don’t, having trained ourselves not to look unless an image is really striking.

There are some artists who would regard that willful blindness as a challenge to their creativity, knowing that if they could make you look (and think), they will have won the greatest prize ever: your attention on their work. This is the goal of everyone in the visual arts, no matter the discipline or medium, but it’s especially true of people who make posters. They are preternaturally aware of the need to be brief and memorable, whether the message is buy, sell, or challenge the status quo of practically anything.

In Poster House’s latest exhibits, we see how artists work through various methods to confront, subvert, or redefine an existing image/statement for an audience that needs shaking up. ‘Masked Vigilantes on Silent Motorbikes’ (September 9, 2022 – February 12, 2023), displays posters that are torn, redefined with superimposed imagery and language, reassembled, painted over, fragmented, blurred, and altered in ways that change both the original intention of the advertisement as well as the viewer’s perception of it. The result is not just street art but a refined and thoughtful set of responses to consumerism, marketing, and societal changes (or lack thereof).

In ‘Air-India’s Maharaja: Advertising Gone Rogue’, the airline’s advertising team takes a different approach, using the Maharaja mascot to interact with symbols of nations, cities, and even social mores of the time. Witty appropriations of artistic styles and imagery enhanced the character’s cosmopolitan image while also acknowledging cultural touchstones in each travel market. His lighthearted approach to travel and life made him a popular figure around the world, representing a new view of India, not stuck in the past but ready to embrace the modern era on its own terms. It’s soft diplomacy as practiced by commercial interests, while difficult to achieve, so memorable when it works.

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