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Counterculture by Design: Concert Posters from Archives and Special Collections

Shields Library (Lobby - Archives and Special Collections)

December 2, 2019 - February 28, 2020

Fifty years on from the heyday of the counterculture movement that defined the visual design aesthetic of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the UC Davis Library invites you to visit the Shields Library lobby exhibit, Counterculture by Design: Concert Posters from Archives and Special Collections.

The term “Counterculture” refers to the global youth movement of the 1960s that challenged the cultural norms and social mores of mainstream society. Countercultural art reached its peak expression through its synergy with the experimental, psychedelic popular music of the period in the form of the concert poster. Eighteen selected posters in this exhibit feature iconic Bay Area and West Coast musical groups of the era, including the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, Sly and the Family Stone, and Big Brother and the Holding Company (featuring Janis Joplin).

Rebelling against the conventions of commercial design, poster artists such as Victor Moscoso went beyond art and advertising, creating a new style to communicate the social and political statements of the movement. Messages on the psychedelic posters were hidden in plain sight from outsiders through the manipulation of lettering, flowing typography, and bright, vibrant colors. Come by the exhibit and see if you can find the message in the medium.

About the Counterculture Poster Collection

In addition to the psychedelic rock concert advertisements featured in this exhibit, the Counterculture Poster Collection held by the library’s Archives and Special Collections department includes posters and prints depicting social commentary and other “happenings” of interest to the American counterculture of the 1960s. Most of the venues featured on the concert posters were in San Francisco, such as the Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom; however, several posters in the exhibit feature musical performances held at Freeborn Auditorium and other UC Davis venues.

How did the UC Davis Library acquire a counterculture poster collection? Former Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian, Noel Peattie, felt it was important for the Library to acquire and highlight the work of local artists. As a result, the library started purchasing the posters as they were produced in the 1960s. In addition to purchasing the posters, the library also accepted donations from former faculty members whose students of the period designed posters representing the preoccupations of a generation. Today, the collection offers important primary sources in the study of graphic arts, art history, and cultural studies.