Farmington Museum will open rock posters exhibition
FARMINGTON — As memorable and enduring as was the rock ‘n’ roll music of the mid-1960s through early 1970s, it seems curious now that many of the posters promoting shows by that era’s biggest acts used the names of those performers almost as an afterthought.
That’s only one of the surprises in the “Technicolor Dreaming: Psychedelic Posters from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” exhibition opening with a reception this weekend at the Farmington Museum at Gateway Park.
Farmington Museum Curator Jeffrey Richardson says the 30 original concert posters included in the show — which tout performances by such legends as Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd — are focused much more on a particular style than they are on the performers.
“They are representative of the era in which they were produced,” he said. “They broke a lot of the standards of graphic design. In some of the posters, it’s hard to ascertain who the main act was.”
Richardson said the posters are typical of the counterculture approach to graphic design. They are flowery, distorted, garishly colored and busy — a sharp contrast to the conservative, monochromatic, meat-and-potatoes posters that preceded them.
“The graphic aspect was at the forefront, not the act,” Richardson said.
Citing a poster promoting a concert by the Grateful Dead at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco, he explained that the dominant graphic in the piece — a skeleton draped in roses — became just as iconic as the band itself. The same is true of the famed Woodstock poster included in the show and other images.
“Some of these images have become very, very entrenched in popular culture,” he said.
Richardson explained that rock concerts of the era represented in the show were much more than mere musical performances. They were social happenings that helped galvanize an entire generation.
“It was a time when concerts took on a total event atmosphere,” he said. “There was music, lights, motion, images and drugs.”
It was the latter that helped contribute to the name by which the era is largely known – psychedelic. The consumption of LSD — which remained legal until the late 1960s — was commonplace at rock concerts, and the graphic art that illustrated those events reflected its popularity, Richardson said.
“This really played into the Haight-Ashbury vibe in San Francisco in the 1960s,” he said. “These posters became the graphic extension of that … experience.”
One of the more attractive elements regarding the show, from Richardson’s perspective, is that it was organized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Richardson said he was eager to have the Farmington Museum present an exhibition associated with an institution of that stature.
“What I was really looking for was an exhibition that would have mass appeal but, like the Ansel Adams show (that the museum displayed recently), would be of top-notch quality and that we would be very proud to bring in,” he said. “Working with an institution like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, you don’t really get much better than that. This show will appeal to a certain demographic, of course, but even if you don’t like rock ‘n’ roll, these posters are quite something to behold. … It’s not just the names on the posters, but the style of the posters themselves.”
The collection includes work by the likes of Wes Wilson, Rick Griffin and Alton Kelley.
“The artists of this particular period may not be household names, but they’re very well known in the world of graphic design,” Richardson said. “They’re all held in very high regard. They’re well known, even to this day.”
And, of course, the music they provided work for has achieved a timeless quality over the last half century.
“Some of the names represented in this show remain some of the best-selling artists in music, even today,” Richardson said. “These are names you still hear every day on the radio – some, even more than you did in the 1960s. But there are also bands featured in here that a lot of people don’t know very well but who were very popular at the time — Country Joe McDonald, Big Brother and the Holding Company. They were bands that were very influential for their style and aesthetic, but who were not as well known as Jimi Hendrix.”
The show will feature 16 listening stations featuring live performances by the artists or groups featured in the corresponding poster.
“People will have the opportunity to listen to the actual music of the artists,” Richardson said, adding that live recordings were chosen to help approximate the experience of attending a concert from that era. Lighting effects will contribute to that experience.
“To hear Jimi Hendrix play live is a complete different experience,” he said. “And the lights will add a bit of a hypnotic element. We want people to understand what it was like to go to one of these events.”
Richardson acknowledged he isn’t sure what kind of reception the show will get, though he said, as a museum visitor, it is something he would pay to see.
“It contrasts with the other exhibition we have going on right now with ‘ReDress,’” he said, referring to a recycled fashion show by Santa Fe designer Nancy Judd. “But I would point out that a lot of the ideals of the recycling movement emerged out of the 1960s, when this music became popular. So that’s kind of interesting and somewhat ironic.”
In conjunction with the show’s opening reception, Richardson said the museum encourages visitors to dress in costumes reflective of the era. That means predominately hippie or counterculture attire, he said, before he added in a wry tone, “Maybe people want to dress like the Silent Majority.”
The exhibition remains on display through March 25.
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: Opening reception for “Technicolor Dreaming: Psychedelic Posters from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame”
When: 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16
Where: The Farmington Museum at Gateway Park, 3041 E. Main St.
For more information: 505-599-1174