Golden oldies

  • 18 March 2005
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People just can't get enough nostalgia as Billy Leahy discovers at the original vintage poster gallery in Dublin

The sale of vintage posters carries with it a slight paradox. They are advertisements, initially conceived to sell us hair products, fancy holidays or snippets of lifestyles that ultimately we cannot fully attain. So does it not seem just a little strange that these posters have in turn become the commodity; that the advertisements themselves are for sale? Even if it does, it has not stopped the market for vintage posters, with demand escalating in recent years as consumers scramble to fill their empty walls with mini icons of capitalism.

Being bombarded with television commercials, neon logos, internet pop-ups and sophisticated super-sized billboards is no longer enough, it would appear; now we want to buy advertisement posters to hang in our living-rooms. Gallery 29, located beneath the Jorgensen Gallery on Molesworth Street in Dublin, is the first commercial outlet for vintage posters in Ireland, which hopes to slake our thirst for Orangina and CinZano posters from the 1960s.

As well as classic posters from around the globe, including Donald Brun's renowned Gauloises designs, Gallery 29 has gone for the Irish angle, with our very own Córas Iompair Éireann's Funky Bus – The Shannon seizing its place, alongside Aer Lingus' idealised 'tourist gaze' images of our fair shores. These seemingly quaint posters, however, have done their job and dispensed their information; their time is spent.

Not really. It is easy to see the reasons why people feel the urge to frame these bold, brightly-coloured and often kitsch commercials and hang them obediently on their wall, willingly handing them a new, unnatural lease of life. After all, they were created to grab the attention, their composition is well thought out and their elements of design contain strong visual aspects borrowed from art trends at the time.

Sure, these works designed for commercial reasons cannot reasonably be compared to original pieces of traditional or contemporary art. But in a society where artistic freedom is often compromised by commerce and the need for an artist to sell works in order to make a living, the two are perhaps closer then we might expect: art tries to sell itself, posters merely sell something else.

Flopping through the vintage posters in the well laid out Molesworth Street space not only provides the viewer with an interesting history of printing, typography, advertising and sales techniques, but also a chronological glance at how the aesthetic language of art infiltrates our lives. Elements of cubism, dadaist collage techniques, futurism, Russian constructivism and even new realism can be seen from time to time, while David Hockney paintings feature sporadically.

If art has influenced advertising, then we only need to look at Andy Warhol to see that the relationship can be symbiotic, while a poster designed by Warhol and Keith Haring for the Montreux Jazz festival brings the relationship to a complete circle. There is, of course, a less overtly commercial aspect with some of the posters – including personal favourites – advertising exhibitions, such as De Stijl and Bauhaus.

Reflecting artistic styles is just one aspect of why these posters are intrinsically interesting. This is just one example of when they come into their own as a fun analytical tool and mirror for social history, highlighting the consumer and artistic tastes of their era. These posters are snippets of history – elegantly and captivatingly designed unique statements. Selling advertisement posters in a saturated consumer society may seem like flogging sand in a desert, but it's hard not to be sold on the idea.

?More Gallery 29, 29 Molesworth St, Dublin 2.