The exhibition is co-organized by guest curator Matthew Bird and Norton Assistant Curator J. Rachel Gustafson, who selected 215 posters, from the more than 3,000 held in the Cleveland Collection, to present a comprehensive history of movie poster art and the longstanding allure of Hollywood these objects helped promote. The exhibition includes posters of iconic films such as Casablanca, The Godfather, Singin’ in the Rain, North by Northwest, and Grand Hotel, as well as memorable cult classics such as Barbarella and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.
“This exhibition is a landmark event for the art form, which has not been granted the respect of a stand-alone show,” says Chicago-based collector Dwight Cleveland. “Film posters have always been mixed with costumes, scripts, props, and other ephemera in previous exhibitions about movies. Most film buffs think all the art is on the screen, but I believe the best posters can represent the soul of the movie itself – and communicate volumes about the essence of the film.”
Movie posters have a complex “job description.” They must grab the public’s attention, introduce a story, depict a foreign world, promote a celebrated cast, and ultimately fill theater seats. The subject of a full-length feature film has to be communicated in a single image, and movie poster artists had to become adept at simultaneously communicating glamour, aesthetics, and emotion in a very limited space. In spite of changing eras and technologies, today’s film posters do the same work the earliest ones took on, using ephemeral paper and ink to connect a film to its audience. The posters selected for Coming Soon illustrate the artistic techniques – pastel, oil painting, water color, photomontage, and air brush – and printing techniques – lithography, hand-stenciling, off-set printing, and photographic reproductions – that artists have used to celebrate and promote iconic movie stars like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, Carry Grant and Grace Kelly, Harrison Ford, and so many others.
Movies also have been one of America’s most popular exports for at least a century. Therefore, Coming Soon includes posters from around the world that have interpreted American movies, providing a window on how other cultures view the United States. Posters in the exhibition also come from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Additionally, posters advertising films that were produced abroad in countries such as Germany, Mexico, and Russia are exhibited in Coming Soon to illustrate the global reach and popularity of filmmaking.
From the earliest silent films, through the Golden Age of movie making, right up to our contemporary blockbusters, movie poster art tells the story of how the film industry developed, appealed to audiences, took on the challenges of an ever- changing entertainment landscape, and continues to enthrall us. Coming Soon not only celebrates one collector’s passion, but also provides a rare survey of an often overlooked art form that has become an important fixture in popular culture.
About Guest Curator Matthew Bird
Matthew Bird teaches design and design history at Rhode Island School of Design, and works to bring design-related content into art museums and present design to new audiences. His knowledge of manufacturing and materials informs his teaching and writing about design history, making the information understandable and exciting. At the Norton, he previously curated the exhibitions Wheels & Heels: The Big Noise around Little Toys (2014), and Going Places: Transportation Designs from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection (2015).