Poster: A Global History


Huyen Mac

ART 335

Book Review


Guffey, Elizabeth E. Poster: A Global History. (London, UK: Reaktion Book Ltd, 2015, 319pp)


Poster: A Global History by Elizabeth E Guffey informs the birth of the poster design throughout the years from nineteen century to the present. The book was first published in 2015 and reprint in 2016 by Reaktion Books Ltd in London, UK. Poster: A Global History demonstrates the history of poster design and how poster design plays an important role in the historical timeline. The book is the combination of a series of poster designs and its analysis. Guffey also explains about the historical and cultural aspect of each artwork in order to define the significant role of poster design in various societies. She spent the last chapter to define the role of modern technology and how it affects the poster design industry. While technology and computer graphic have a rapid improvement, but only a “few forms of graphic design can rival posters for their tangibility, sheer spatial presence, force, and immediacy”. (pg 1) Digital graphic can work hand-in-hand with the traditional style in order to improve the role of poster design in the modern society.

This book describes the history of poster design from nineteen century to the present time. The format of the book is similar to an extension of a basic essay. It has the introduction, the body paragraphs, and the conclusion. Away from the introduction and the conclusion, the author divided the book into five chapters with the chronological order. Each chapter has its distinguish title and the timeline to separate the historical contents and the ideas of each individual. The first chapter “Consuming words on the street: 1840-1950” started with the historical content in 19th century, when poster design became well known and took over public spaces. It created a new movement for advertisement. Soon after that, posters were not only display in public areas, but people also collected them as a part of their collection.

Deep one night, in December 1891, billstickers plastered Paris with some 3,000                       copies of a poster for the Moulin Rouge nightclub. Soon after, most of the                                   posters have disappeared – torn down, not because they were unpopular, but                           because they were being collected. (pg 51)

Posters getting extremely popular and became a part of people’s daily lives from wedding invitation to dress up as poster characters to the party. (pg 54) Along with the popularity, the demand of public spaces became fiercer. The rental fee went up depend on the location. The owner of the new building on Broadway, Manhattan could earn almost $3,000 a year for leasing the board surrounding his building. (pg 57)

In early 20th century, the role of poster design has changed intentionally. From the advertisement purpose, posters became a tool to propagate political issue. Propaganda posters were born to encourage people to join the military. It also used to support the war effort and generated patriotism from young people. Inspiring the troop to fight and protect the country. “Leaders, such as Hilter and Stalin could also deploy posters in complex roles, using their belligerent ubiquity to make over the poster like a quick-change artirst”. (pg 75)

The next chapter “Trashing tradition: 1945-1965” and “New Art, New Space: 1960-1980” informed a new style in poster design, which opposed the traditional art, called Dada movement. Dada was an anti-war, anti-art movement, which rejected all the traditional style and gave a negative response to the nationalism during World War I. With Dada posters, the text can be overlapped each other, or paragraphs can be rotated upside down. Dada movement did not follow any rules or had any specific style.

Unlike other history books, which focus only on certain countries in Europe, Poster: A Global History contains artworks from diverse countries. It includes the significant artworks from European countries, Americans, African, as well as Asia. Guffey spends the whole chapter four “Fetishisn and the global poster: 1960-1980” on talking about the global poster with the portrait of Che Guevara as the first example. She spends the rest of the chapter to inform about how poster from China and Cuba has a huge impact in its own country at that time. Posters of Mao Zedong in China and the portrait of Che Guevara became a significant icon in their societies. Guffey successfully demonstrates the role of Mao Zedong poster to Chinese society at that time. His iconic images links to a powerful leader and appear in public as well as individual houses.

With the clear structure, it provides a smooth flow of the contents so that the readers can be able to follow the ideas without any difficulty. Overall, Poster: A Global History showed that the author carefully selected 150 stunning images for the demonstration purpose. There are a variety of posters throughout different time periods. It helps to present the visual connection between the text and the images.

The author walks the readers through different timelines from 19th century to the present time. She not only gives general information about the pieces but also explains the in-depth materials related to the works. She describes the artworks in details and explains about the historical content behind the artworks. It includes when the poster was made and which country the poster came from as well as how the poster fit in different societies. Guffey emphasizes the important role of the poster in the community. The poster is not simply a graphic element or a tool to advertise the products. Posters can reflect the culture and the environment around them.




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