I recently had the great pleasure of traveling to Ljubljana, Slovenia for the opening of “Underground Images,” which is on view at the National Museum of Contemporary History. The exhibition was curated by SVA Executive Vice President Anthony P. Rhodes and features fifty-one of SVA’s renowned subway posters. I presented a talk on the history of the school’s subway poster campaign, which was initiated in the mid-1950s by the school’s founder, Silas Rhodes, and continues to this day.
Though I am well-acquainted with the more than 140 posters created by SVA faculty over the years, the talk gave me the opportunity to consider the subway posters as a coherent whole. The campaign began in a spirit similar to that of the landmark Container Corporation of America’s Great Ideas of Western Man series, in which artists freely interpreted quotations from writers, artists, philosophers, and political figures. Posters from SVA faculty members in the 1960s and early 1970s (including Push Pin artists Milton Glaser, James McMullan, and Paul Davis; neo-expressive illustrators Robert Weaver and Phil Hays; and interpreters of the European modern style, like George Tscherny, Ivan Chermayeff, and Tony Palladino) established the school’s presence underground and introduced refined and conceptual design to the NYC subway platforms. Later posters, from artists as diverse as Paula Scher, Marshall Arisman, Marvin Mattelson, Jerry Moriarty, Carin Goldberg, Mirko Ilic, James Victore, Stefan Sagmeister, Louise Fili, Gail Anderson, Viktor Koen, Kevin O’Callaghan, and David Sandlin are stylistically individualistic, but share a common message: an artist can never be complacent.
The exhibition was initiated by SVA faculty member Mirko Ilic and SVA Visual Arts Gallery director Francis DiTommaso helped to organize. Great thanks go to the Emzin Institute of Creative Production, which presented the exhibition in conjunction with the National Museum of Contemporary History.