Sunday, February 20, 2011

..Circus Posters Coming To Cincinnati..

LAY-deez and gentlemen and children of all ages, Cincinnati Art Museum invites you to The Amazing American Circus Poster, an exhibit of 80 posters paying tribute to Cincinnati's Strobridge Lithographing Company - many on view for the first time - in a "big top" installation opening Saturday and continuing through July 10.

Circus posters "were the messengers and are now the record of the transformative world," says curator Kristin Spangenberg, who drew from Cincinnati Art Museum's collection, and that of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Fla., as well as the Howard Tibbals Collection

Cincinnati was a hotbed for the creation of circus posters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Strobridge posters are widely considered unrivaled.

The posters in the exhibit, created between 1878 and 1939, were noted for their brilliant color, print quality, and graphic description of the acts and action, Spangenberg says.

See Gargantua! The gorilla stars in a four-sheet poster that's nearly 8 feet long. Another features Ernest Clarke, the first gymnast to perform the triple somersault with a twist - it's 9-feet long. It was discovered on a building in Iowa in 2007. Photographs - including one of a 30-foot poster from yesteryear - handbills and other circus ephemera will also be on view
The exhibit is playfully laid out in four sections: Grand Aggregation of Pristinely Printed Posters: The Power of Advertising; Colossal City of Canvas: The Circus Comes to Town; Wonders of the World: An Educational Extravaganza; and Tremendously Terrible Temerity and Illimitable Intrepidity: Under the Big Top.

The posters from the Cincinnati collection, which make up more than half the exhibit, have never been on view - after an 1887 fire wiped out the archive in the Strobridge Cincinnati headquarters, pristine posters were brought in from the New York officeSpangenberg calls the posters "a lens through which we can look at the society of the time" - including women, new technologies and "the development of outdoor advertising on a grand scale."

While there is scholarship, there are also striking renditions of aerialists, menageries, clowns, elephants, daredevils, sideshows - and plenty of spectacle.

Spangenberg contends that at a time when museums were few and far between, the flamboyant Strobridge circus poster stands were museums without walls, and the poster designs laid the groundwork for future generations of graphic designers. She points out that circus posters preceded American art posters by more than a decade and that Strobridge counted Henry Farney among its artists.

There's a panoply of events connected to the exhibit for children and adults of all ages, including a symposium (May 1) and a performance by Circus Mojo on Community Day (June 4).