Boston’s SOWA District is home to multiple fantastic galleries including the incredibly unique International Poster Gallery. When one goes inside International Poster Gallery, one can see how it reflects the history and significance of posters in the art world through the large variety within its collection. The gallery features 10,000 fine original vintage posters, all from the periods they were made (i.e. not reproductions) which makes it one of the largest collections in both price and style. The gallery’s beautiful posters and related items are as little as $100 and many above $5,000. They are also interested in working with new collectors and finding posters for their more sophisticated collectors. An example of a new arrival for new collectors would be the extremely hard to find poster “Bianco e Nero” by Marcello Dudovich. I had recently spoken with the owner, Jim Lapides, who told me “Our collection has always been a little bit different. We have many unique niches.” This enormous collection displays posters from a multitude of time periods, countries, and artists that depict different styles and subjects. The gallery features the largest collection of Italian and Swiss posters in the US and has major French, Dutch, and Russian ones, as well. Other major areas include war and propaganda, travel, and poster masterpieces from many different countries.
My discussion with Lapides also included how International Poster Gallery separates from other galleries that focus on the medium of poster art. He told me how the gallery has been in the business for 27 years and has gained a reputation for having great posters, taking great care of its clients, as well as having a real passion for the art of posters. Lapides started off as a collector and has a degree in Art History, which has helped him look at posters from different vantage points. His personal collection focused primarily on Italian vintage posters. The gallery early on became known for rediscovering the Italian poster.
However, what really stood out is when he said, “Another thing I should say about the gallery is we’ve done shows while most poster galleries rarely do them. If you look at our website it probably lists 35 to 40, but we’ve had close to 70 shows in the gallery on topical things that have shed a light on little known areas of posters.” The gallery has done shows on the golden age of travel, ocean liners, Belle Epoque posters, machine-age design posters, and mid-century modern posters. One example of a past exhibition at the gallery is the “Pioneers of Modernism: Poster Innovators of the Twentieth Century” show, which took place in the spring of 2010. This show was one of the many shows that the gallery has done on posters from the early Modernism, mid-century modernism, and postmodernism periods. The details on these past shows can all be found on the gallery’s highly detailed and organized website, which they have done e-commerce from since 1997.
The gallery also includes work from multiple artists from all kinds of time periods, including all of the great Italian artists. “Metlicovitz, Dudovich, Cappiello, Hohenstein, as well as Art Deco artists like Nizzoli, and Seneca, Sepo, and that’s just one country.” Lapides also discussed A.M Cassandre who “most people would acknowledge was the greatest poster artist of the 20th century. We still have a number of masterpieces by him including the ‘Nord Express’.” Ultimately, International Poster Gallery doesn’t focus on any specific artist or artists. It has incorporated the work of multiple fantastic figures from the history of poster art. Other artists include Baumberger, Cardinaux, Armin Hofmann, Mueller-Brockmann, Herbert Leupin, the Soviet Moor, Apsit and Koretsky, Jules Cheret, Toulouse-Lautrec, Colin, Hohlwein, Flagg and Christy. The gallery’s variety doesn’t just end there.
The work displayed in the gallery depicts a variety of subjects. Popular subjects include food and beverage, war and propaganda, travel, transportation, fashion, sports as well as entertainment.Other subjects include skiing, golden age of travel, Pan am posters of the 1930s, World War I and II, Bolshevik Posters, Peretstroika, AIDS, objects and Mad Men Era posters. However, the gallery does not focus on movie posters. Movie posters are too big of a category. The gallery only collects avant-garde artistic film posters such as Avant-Garde Russian film posters from the 1920’s. They also have a deep collection of beautifully designed art exhibition posters from Picasso, Chagall and others that were primarily made in France, as well.
This kind of variation is also shown in the different styles of poster art presented at the gallery. “We want diversity. We like eclectic ideas and different ways to represent things,” Lapides said. The major styles depicted at the gallery include Art Nouveau, Early Modernism, mid-Century modernism, Postmodernism, and Swiss Modernism. These styles also come from different points in the history of poster art.
International Poster Gallery shows not only a variety of posters, but also the history of the art form. The gallery contains work starting from the beginning with the birth of the lithographic poster in the 1800s as a result of Cheret’s “4 stone lithographic process”. This triggered a poster craze throughout Europe and the United States that lasted until 1900. However, that isn’t to say that the gallery doesn’t show how there are incredible posters from every point in the art form’s history. The history that the collection depicts extends through important periods in time for poster art such as the Bolshevik revolution and the Belle Epoque. Both of those points in history are also the ones that the posters hanging in the gallery’s office are from. During my meeting with Lapides, he showed me the extremely rare “To Horse, Proletarian!” by Aleksandrs Apsit, which is one of the very first posters of the Bolshevik Revolution (January 1919). He also showed me the poster “Chat Noir/Prochainement” by Theophile-Alexandre Steinlen, which is an iconic poster for a cabaret from the Belle Epoque (1986).
International Poster Gallery also shows the contrast between posters from other time periods and those from modern day. The gallery contains multiple posters from World War 1 and World War 2, which were used for propaganda purposes. This makes one consider how little posters are seen in the world today. Lapides and I spoke about how they have a smaller role compared to the peak of the poster’s influence in World War 1 where radio, TV, sound films and the internet were not yet in use. The poster hanging in the office of the gallery titled “To Horse, Proletarian!” by Aleksandrs Apsit was used to spread a political message. This message was to raise a cavalry corps for the Bolsheviks to defeat the Cossacks. Posters today continue to spread political messages even with the development of other forms of media. Cultural organizations and local causes or events continue to use them for concerts, rallies, etc. The gallery’s collection of eye-catching work shows how posters have remained useful in advertisement and entertainment today, because “images sell”. This proves that posters are still able to be useful in this realm, despite the development of other media.
Ultimately, International Poster Gallery provides more than just incredible posters, but also teaches its visitors about the history and styles within the art form. My personal experience of meeting with Jim Lapides and discussing the role of poster art, as well as exploring their highly detailed and organized website has helped me to realize the way poster art has evolved over time.