Introduction

 
Featuring designs by some of the major California poster artists of the 1960s, this exhibition explores the American counterculture through a popular visual medium that vividly evokes a particular place and time.

In their attempts to target disaffected youth in the Bay Area, the artists responsible for the posters in the exhibition graphically captured life in San Francisco during the late 1960s through the lens of the era’s rock concerts, drug use, and cultural gatherings. The psychedelic aesthetic, which features bright, often clashing colors, freely drawn lettering styles, and dream-like imagery, was meant to mimic and capture the visual experience of mind-altering drugs.

During the 1960s poster art underwent a radical transformation, emerging as an important means of communication. The time period saw a crucial shift from the mass-produced poster as an advertising vehicle to an art form whose goal was to spark social and political change.

Psychedelic posters served as a kind of visual social media of their time, attracting and linking their main audience: young people in San Francisco. At the same time—with their provocative imagery and messages, inventive typography, and distinctive palette—the posters gained attention far beyond San Francisco where they were first posted or distributed.

Summer of Love showcases posters from the SCMA collection that were created to promote a diverse range of cultural pursuits, including dance-concerts at iconic Bay Area venues such as the Fillmore Auditorium and Avalon Ballroom, art shows, “Human Be-Ins,” and the legalization of so-called consciousness-expanding drugs. Most of the works in the exhibition date to 1967, the pivotal year known as the “Summer of Love.”

Several posters in the installation are displayed under black light, as they would have been shown in teenagers’ bedrooms. The installation also features footage of live music performances and cultural events, allowing viewers to experience the sounds and sights of San Francisco around 1967.