Why Nostalgia Obscures Reasons Behind Innovation

It’s a mistake to think that any visual style in the past is a ‘golden era’, that is, a time of unfettered creativity that was welcomed by the public. Often it’s exactly the opposite: trends are frequently born from a collective effort of achievement, tragic loss, or as a reaction to larger societal issues.

We see this playing out in our ‘Opening This Week’ selection of Poster House’s new exhibitions, featuring graphic design that pushed contemporary boundaries of imagery and taste, not just for attention, but to make a wider point. In You Won’t Bleed Me: How Blaxploitation Posters Defined Cool & Delivered Profits, sensationalism (and revenue for a notoriously exploitative industry) is built into the visual elements, but so are Black voices, defining and sharing their viewpoints with a national audience. The images in The Push Pin Legacy were a radical departure from the pristine imagery of post-war advertising, using everything from roughly drawn lines, bright colors, and stylistic motifs of past decades, attracting an equally eclectic assortment of clients, from anti-war protestors to establishment firms.

However, sometimes visual style is more subtle, as in our ‘Gallery Shows’ entry for this week. In American Weathervanes: The Art of the Winds, on view at the American Folk Art Museum, the basic structure of a marker to note and define the wind’s direction; aiding in weather forecasting, is shown to have astonishing variety and purpose. Aspirational, decorative, prosaic: the shapes reveal aspects of regional and national identity in unexpected ways. There are symbols of peace but also images showing the subjugation of Native peoples, astrological forms, religious figures, domestic and wild animals, and the latest inventions, all demonstrating the range of 18th – 20th century American interests and goals. Sadly, seeing a weathervane nowadays is rare: modern buildings are so streamlined that any device to track the wind is just a discrete electronic monitor on a flat roof, leaving only private homes or community structures to employ this architectural element that combines practicality with personality.

UPDATE: DUE TO THE RAIN & FLASH FLOODING FROM HURRICANE IDA, POSTER HOUSE IS CLOSED FROM 9/2 – 9/8/21. CHECK HERE FOR REOPENING DETAILS.