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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.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Hood Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine.


Resource Library features these essays concerning Northern California art:

A Society for Six by Sarah Beserra

Jennie V. Cannon: The Untold History of the Carmel and Berkeley Art Colonies, vol. one, East Bay Heritage Project, Oakland, 2012 by Robert W. Edwards

Landscape Painters of Northern California 1870-1930 by Harvey L. Jones

The Carmel Monterey Peninsula Art Colony: A History by Barbara J. Klein

The San Francisco Art Association by Betty Hoag McGlynn

The Santa Cruz Art League by Betty Hoag McGlynn

The Carmel Art Association by Betty Hoag McGlynn

Monterey: The Artist's View, 1925 - 1945 by Kent Seavey

Maurice Logan, Artist and Designe by Marvin A. Schenck

The Society of Six by Terry St. John

Towards Impressionism in Northern California by Raymond L. Wilson

and these articles:

Artists at Continent's End: The Monterey Peninsula Art Colony, 1875-1907 is a 2006 exhibit organized by the Crocker Art Museum, including some 70 paintings, photographs and works on paper drawn from museums and private collections throughout California and beyond. It features work by eight artists of major importance to California's, and America's, art history -- Jules Tavernier, William Keith, Charles Rollo Peters, Arthur Mathews, Evelyn McCormick, Francis McComas, Gottardo Piazzoni and photographer Arnold Genthe. The exhibition also includes the work of more than 25 other artists, both well- and little-known, who each contributed to the reputation of what is now widely recognized as one of America's most important art colonies.

The Art Of Mount Shasta is a 2010 Turtle Bay Museum at the Turtle Bay Exploration Park exhibit for which William Miesse and Robyn G. Peterson, Ph.D, co-curators, say; "Most of the works in this exhibition, lent by museums, institutions, and private collections from around the country, stem from that San Francisco Art Boom. And these paintings are only the tip of the iceberg relative to the large number of Mount Shasta paintings in museums and private collections around the country. The current exhibition is representative of the extensive art history of the Mount Shasta region."

The Lighter Side of Bay Area Figuration is a 2000 Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art exhibit which contains 56 humorous, whimsical and satirical works of art by San Francisco Bay artists such as Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Arneson, Roy De Forest, Richard Diebenkorn, and Viola Frey. Comic art in the Bay area began to flourish during the late 1950s in deliberate defiance of New York's avant-garde. San Francisco's distance from the center of commerce and criticism fostered a renegade mentality and a tendency toward personal forms of expression. Bucking mainstream trends by combining humor with lowbrow artistic media and techniques became a badge of honor for many Bay Area artists. The hub of humorous figurative art was the University of California in Davis, a sleepy and relatively remote campus town 70 miles north of San Francisco. Although their aesthetics differed, most of the Davis artists explored humorous narratives, whether in clay sculpture or representational painting. The UC-Davis art department included artists Arneson, De Forest, Thiebaud, Manuel Neri, and William Wiley. There, Thiebaud painted his whimsical still lifes of ordinary objects from gumball machines and yo-yos to pies and cakes, like the exhibition's painting Cakes and Pies, 1994-95. Roy De Forest painted his canvases filled with wild-eyed, pointy eared dogs, and printmaker William Wiley produced his quirky alter ego, "Mr. Unatural." (right: Joan Brown, Portrait of Bob for Bingo, 1960, oil paint oncanvas, 29 x 28 inches, Collection of Joyce and Jay Cooper, AZ, Photo, Jay Cooper)

The Lighter Side of Bay Area Figuration is a 2000 exhibit at the San Jose Museum of Art, a compelling exhibition of approximately 70 works that deftly examines the historical, social, cultural, and aesthetic development of humorous Bay Area art. The exhibition -- the first to identify and examine this genre -- highlights the work of artists associated with the University of California at Davis, such as Robert Arneson, Roy De Forest, and Wayne Thiebaud, and with artists associated with the East Bay, such as Robert Colescott, Joan Brown, M. Louise Stanley, and James Albertson.

Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity, 1900-2000 / Section 1: 1900 - 1920 / Section 2: 1920 - 1940 / Section 3: 1940 - 1960 / Section 4: 1960 - 1980 / Section 5: 1980 - 2000 is a 2000 multi-part exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The exhibition goes beyond a standard presentation of California art to offer a revisionist view of the state and its cultural legacy. It considers both "booster" images of California and other coexisting and at times competing images, reflecting the wide range of interests and experiences of the state's diverse constituencies. The exhibit approaches the past 100 years thematically, presenting works that engage in a meaningful way with the California image. As opposed to a survey exhibition, Made in California moves beyond the established canon of artists and art works to include lesser-known works by celebrated figures as well as a wider range of artists, more in keeping with the diversity of California's population. It is the shared conviction of the exhibition organizers that this approach, intended to initiate a broader dialogue on California art rather than establish a new canon.

Made in Monterey a 2009 exhibition at the Monterey Museum of Art, is a sweeping exhibition of the most beloved and important works from the permanent collection created by artists in Monterey or by those inspired by the region. Beginning with the pioneering artists who sojourned on the Central Coast in the late 19th century (including Jules Tavernier and Raymond Dabb Yelland), the exhibition features significant works of Monterey modernists such as Armin Hansen and Margaret Bruton as well as photography visionaries Edward Weston and Ansel Adams. Two renowned works by Armin Hansen, Nino and Men of the Sea, have been conserved and make their stunning debut in this new presentation.

Majestic California: Prominent Artists of the Early 1900's is a 2007 exhibition at The Irvine Museum. At one time, California was considered a distant Eden, isolated within its own beauty. From snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the desolate splendor of the Mojave Desert; from flower-covered hills to countless secluded valleys and meadows; from the dazzling beaches of the south to the rocky coves of the north, it was a world of its own. The enthralling beauty of California is the principal reason that, starting in the middle of the 19th century, artists began to take the long, hazardous journey to paint its unique splendor. By the early 1900's, California had its own group of prominent artists who proclaimed that beauty throughout the country.

Moods of California, a 2007 exhibition at The Irvine Museum, portrays California as experienced by three differing yet equally passionate artistic points of view. Percy Gray (1869-1952), a superb watercolorist who was fascinated by the soft, gentle light and haze of northern California; Paul Grimm (1887-1974), a landscape painter who in his later years moved to Palm Springs and became famous for paintings of the desert; and Emil Kosa, Jr. (1903-1968) who became one of Hollywood's best known scenic painters and set designers, while distinguishing himself as a bold painter of urban Los Angeles as well as light-filled views of the countryside.

The Not-So-Still Life: A Century of California Painting and Sculpture, held in 2003 at the San Jose Museum of Art, includes more than 100 works of art by such artists as Guy Rose, Franz Bischoff, Armin Hansen, Lorser Feitelson, Stanton McDonald-Wright, Hans Burkhardt, Helen Lundeberg, Paul Wonner, Wayne Thiebaud, Mildred Howard, Edward Ruscha, Ed Kienholz, George Herms, Richard Shaw, Peter Shelton, Alan Rath, and Robert Therrien. Divided into three sections: 1900-1930, 1920-1950 and 1950- 2000, the exhibition traces the intriguing evolution of still life in California over the last century. It is a revisionist examination of the genre. According to the curators, what was once the most conservative form of artistic practice has been transformed into one of the more radical forms of expression. Contemporary still life is no longer "still" -- it has not only moved off the table, but off the wall and into three dimensions. The exhibition examines a great variety of styles and media, from Impressionist paintings of apples and oranges to witty ceramic sculpture, funky assemblage art, and electronic media.

Old California is a 2000 exhibition at the California Art Club Gallery featuring original paintings and sculptures inspired by the romance and hardships that built a land named after the 16th century Spanish fable describing the treasure island, "California." The exhibition features prominent genre and figure artists of the California Art Club: Kalan Brunink, William George, Dan Goozeé, Joseph Mendez, Joel Phillips, Vic Riesau, and early CAC artist, Theodore Lukits (1897-1992).

Also see California Art History and Pacific Coast Painting: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington: 19th-21st Centur

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Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

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