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High Society: Psychedelic Rock Posters of Haight-Ashbury


The Hood Museum of Art presents High Society: Psychedelic Rock Posters of Haight-Ashbury, treating visitors to the largest survey of psychedelic rock posters organized in twenty-five years. The exhibition presents selections from the extensive collection of Paul Prince who has been collecting psychedelic graphic design for more than thirty years. Featured in the show are important examples by each of the "Big Five" artists of psychedelic poster design: Wes Wilson, Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse, and Alton Kelley. These works, intended to serve as ephemeral street advertisements, present a unique opportunity to observe the evolution of a psychedelic art form during a turning point in American consciousness.

Organized by the San Diego Museum of Art, High Society: Psychedelic Rock Posters of Haight-Ashbury will be on view at the Hood through May 19, 2002. An opening lecture on Saturday, April 6 at 4:00 PM will feature cultural historian Jay Stevens, author of Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream. A reception hosted by the Friends of Hopkins Center and Hood of Museum of Art will follow. (left: Bob Schenpf, Doors, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, Lotahr and the Hand People. Lights: Diogenes Lantern Works. Denver Dog. September 29-30, 1967, Courtesy of Paul Prince Collection)

Created at the height of the Haight-Ashbury music scene in the late 1960s, the posters of High Society: Psychedelic Rock Posters of Haight-Ashbury have become iconic images of this memorable era in American culture. The majority of these posters served to promote the frequent dance concerts held in San Francisco's fabled Fillmore and Avalon Ballrooms from 1965 to 1971 that frequently featured bands such as Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company, all of which emerged front the local "hippie" community blossoming in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. These concert experiences were multifaceted events often featuring "light shows" created in situ by luminary artists who mixed color oil with water to produce swirling, amoeba-shaped forms that were projected onto the walls, the experience of which was often enhanced by the use of psychotropic drugs. Breaking long-established conventions of graphic design with their twisting, melting, and distorted forms, psychedelic artists conveyed the ambience and spirit of the dance concert experience. (right: Martin Sharp, Blowing in the Mind, Bob Dylan, 1967, Courtesy of Paul Prince Collection)

A small focus in the exhibition utilizes the Hood's collection of bold and colorful art nouveau posters of the 1890s to demonstrate their direct influence on many of the psychedelic posters of the 1960s. Several influential artists including Alphonse Marie Mucha in France, Aubrey Beardsley in England, and William Bradley in America were major practitioners of the emerging art nouveau style which utilized the curving lines and distorted lettering that later influenced the psychedelic poster artists. Graphic artists of the 1960s often used these elements in their posters, sometimes adopting imagery directly from art nouveau advertisements and altering only the color, wording, and layout of the original design.

High Society: Psychedelic Rock Posters of Haight-Ashbury is an ambitious exhibition that reexamines popular advertisements of a key moment in the history of American culture. It presents a unique opportunity to witness the journey of commercial graphic art from ephemera to fine art.

High Society is organized by the San Diego Museum of Art, courtesy of the Paul Prince Collection. Its presentation at the Hood Museum of Art is generously supported by the Hansen Family Fund, the Bernard R. Siskind 1955 Fund, and the Leon C. 1927, Charles L. 1955, and Andrew J. 1984 Greenebaum Fund.

High Society: Psychedelic Rock Posters of Haight-Ashbury is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue available through the Hood Museum Shop.


Selected Wall Text from the Exhibition


High Society Psychedelic Rock Posters of Haight-Ashbury

Within the mid-1960s rock culture of San Francisco, a radical new form of graphic design, informed by the psychedelic (literally "mind-revealing") experience, was born. This was a bold new art form meant to advertise the dance concerts produced by impresarios Bill Graham and Chet Helms between 1965 and 1971. These events were an outgrowth of the "Acid Tests," multisensory happenings at which LSD, then a non-controlled substance, was dispensed to those attending.

The bands most frequently featured at the dance concerts, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Moby Grape, and Big Brother and the Holding Company, emerged from the local hippie community flourishing in the city's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The dance concerts were participatory events combining sound, light, and motion. The audience moved about the hall freely, dancing, listening, and watching the transporting projections of light-show artists.

Psychedelic rock posters are the graphic extensions of the dance concerts and lasting documents of these events. Breaking long-established conventions of graphic design, the artists abandoned legibility and order for entwining, flowing, and distorted forms and lettering. The dizzying patterns, charged hues, wit, and visionary imagery of their designs reflect the sound and spirit of a particularly provocative moment in the history of American culture.



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