In many ways, January 2016 was the month that music died—among those we lost: David Bowie, Pete Huttlinger, Gary Loizzo, Dale “Buffin” Griffin, Glenn Frey and Paul Kantner. Each time, millions of people shared a moment of disbelief that gave way to mourning and regret that a creative light was extinguished too soon.
By the end of that seemingly interminable month when Death was working overtime, I started thinking about all the historical and cultural eras I have lived through in my personal and professional life. You know what? I’ve seen and done a lot of … stuff. And some of that stuff involves cultural touchstones that we have in common.
In that spirit, for this post I gathered together several posters I produced in the 1990s designed by Michael LaPlaca, then the President, COO and Creative Director of LaPlaca Cohen Advertising. This shop, providing advertising, branding, design and marketing services to museums and other cultural institutions, was at the forefront of a nationwide effort to rebrand museums to make them more relevant to younger and more diverse audiences.
Rebranding had both altruistic and practical purposes: To counter the perception of elitism—that museums catered to the well-educated and well-heeled; to become more welcoming to potential patrons intimidated by museums; and to help ensure financial sustainability by persuading a larger percentage of the population to become admissions-paying visitors and membership-buying supporters at a time when new technology-driven entertainment and leisure activities were becoming mainstream.
Working with LaPlaca, highresolution printing produced posters for the American Museum of Natural History at key moments in the institution’s history, and for MoMA, Art Institute of Chicago and the Morgan Library Museum.
In 1994—the 125th anniversary of the founding of the American Museum of Natural History—we printed 2,000 26” x 36” full-color posters featuring the skeleton of an extinct cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) to introduce the public to the Museum’s new Lila Acheson Wallace Wing of Mammals and Their Extinct Relatives. The single-sided poster was printed on 80lb gloss coated cover stock. I especially like the tag line “Meet the family” because it was a double-entendre that invited the public to get to know a new member of our evolutionary family, as well the new wing—a new member of the Museum’s family.
Laser shows set to rock music at planetariums is an example of a spectacularly successful museum rebranding effort. The first such laser show took place at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles in November 1973, and immediately sold out for weeks. A star was born and planetariums across the country asked Ivan Dryer, who invented the art form, to put together similar shows. The revenue generated from the laser shows—typically held on Friday and Saturday nights—was most welcome, though some planetarium pooh-bahs sniffed that the shows attracted “the wrong element”—their euphemism for stoners.
The American Museum of Natural History/Hayden Planetarium’s Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon” Classic 3D Laser Show ran from roughly 1974 until 1997, when the Hayden Planetarium was closed for renovations. During the final year of the show’s run we printed 6,000 4/0 23” x 35” posters promoting the show on 100lb outdoor cover stock.
The art is a reinterpretation of the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of The Moon” album—by then, the sine qua non of laser light shows—with its black background and prismatic colors. A fluorescent version of the rainbow colors forms a spiral, suggesting the kinetic choreography of the lasers.
This 21” x 22” poster for the Art Institute of Chicago 1994 exhibit of John James Audubon’s watercolors for “The Birds of America” exhibit features a detail from his study of the Carolina Parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) with the foliage and other birds in the background faded out to put the visual focus on two of the colorful birds. We printed 500 of the posters 4/0 on 100lb coated cover stock.
In October 1995, the Museum of Modern Art mounted a retrospective of the work of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian that included more than 160 works. The exhibit was to run until January 23, 1996, but was extended for a week. We printed 2,000 posters announcing the happy news to art lovers that were designed in the style of Mondrian’s iconic grid-based paintings. It was printed 18” x 36” bleed, 2/0 Black and PMS 1 Red.
The Morgan Library & Museum hosted the exhibit “Bob Dylan’s American Journey, 1956–1966” in September 2006, which chronicled his transition from folk troubadour to rock icon. The 21” x 22” 4/0 poster announcing the exhibit features a 1963 black-and-white portrait of Dylan by photographer Barry Feinstein that was featured on the cover of the album “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” a fitting choice as it was the first album he released comprised solely of his own songs. Three weeks after the album’s debut, JFK was assassinated and the title track became the anthem for a generation seeking social change. The poster is printed on a heavy 18 point coated cover stock with outdoor ink for use on subways, buses and kiosks.
So much has changed in the printing industry since the ‘90s. In these quantities, the only way to print posters was on conventional offset presses. These posters were printed on 40” presses. Larger numbers were produced because it wasn’t economical to print smaller runs. But today, we have the advantage of digital technology which allows us to produce much smaller quantities and much larger sizes.
We are happy to share some of our history of printing productions. And, in the months to come, we will have many fascinating projects we’re sure you’ll enjoy.