Ballyhoo!: Posters as Portraiture

Wendy Wick Reaves

 
Ballyhoo!: Posters as Portraiture
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Ballyhoo!: Posters as Portraiture

Wendy Wick Reaves

Ballyhoo! looks at the poster as a form of popular portraiture. These celebrity likenesses are dramatic -and often enormous- but in fact, what a poster communicates about an individual is usually secondary to its principal message: Barnum and Bailey announcing the arrival of their circus, the Woodbury Soap company using Veronica Lake to promote its matched make-up, Greta Garbo advertising the Swedish version of Queen Christina, or Bette Midler publicizing her 1973 concert at the Palace Theater.

By interweaving the three themes of poster art, celebrity promotion, and advertising, Ballyhoo! suggests how a famous face can enhance the message of the poster and, conversely, how posters have defined and disseminated images of prominent Americans. Furthermore, posters provide an instructive glimpse of an era’s prevailing ideals, prejudices, and presumptions. These images remind us of the ubiquitous presence of portrait images outside the world of fine art. Widely disseminated forms of popular portraiture, like the poster, remain a profound influence in our culture.

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