by Elizabeth E. Guffey. Reaktion Books, dist. by University of Chicago Press. 320 p. ill. ISBN 9781780233710 (pbk.), $40.00.

Reviewed July 2015
Arielle Cohen, Librarian, Gagosian Gallery, arielle@gagosian.com

guffeyElizabeth E. Guffey presents a new twist on the classic poster narrative in her book, Posters: A Global History. Rather than focusing solely on the birth of the modern poster in nineteenth-century Europe or the medium's artistic evolution in the West, as most texts on the topic tend to do, Guffey combines what could be termed the basics of poster art history with a thorough analysis of the varying roles posters have played, and continue to play, in societies worldwide.

Mixing aesthetic interpretations with historical and cultural context, Guffey's book is much more than a simple overview of the poster. Divided into five distinct chapters, not including an introduction and epilogue, this well-written and well-researched text charts the history of the poster, culturally and aesthetically, from the 1850s through to present day. While the earlier chapters focus on how the poster developed in western Europe and later America through the spread of chromolithography, the latter half of the book covers new ground, as it explores the role of the poster in such areas as West Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian sub-continent.

Printed on thick, well-made paper and bound as a durable paperback with French flaps, Posters includes 185 high-quality images, 121 of which are produced in vibrant color. Peppered throughout the text, these images, which range from poster reproductions to film stills to historical photographs, provide readers with the visual references that are essential to fully understand Guffey's thesis of poster as artifact. Also included in the book is a decent-sized notes section, as well as a select bibliography and index, allowing for those interested to delve deeper into the various topics and artists discussed.

There's no question that Guffey sets out to cover a lot of historical and artistic ground in just under 300 pages, but her argument that posters are not only artistic statements or beguiling advertisements but culturally significant objects that reflect and shape their environment makes for a compelling and enlightening read. Such a unique view makes this text perfectly suited not only to public libraries whose patrons include art enthusiasts, but also to academic and research libraries that cater to art historians, cultural theorists, historians, and the humanities more generally.