If you happen to drop by L’Affichiste, Karen Etingin’s Old Montreal poster gallery, some of the posters in the exhibition she’s mounting in November will perhaps look familiar.
You might already have seen them, glued, often in multiples, to the walls around construction sites.
The 50 posters are big — 2 feet by 3 feet — and bold and eye-catching. They’re designed that way to grab your attention “in a millisecond,” as she said.
The show is a collaboration between Etingin and Publicité Sauvage, a Montreal-based company founded by Baudoin Wart 27 years ago with a mandate to make it affordable for cultural and social organizations to promote their events: He did this by gluing posters advertising the events onto the fences surrounding construction sites.
The one hitch was that, until 1994, postering was against the law. Wart and the people he hired to put the posters up had to look out for police, as Montreal Gazette visual arts columnist John Pohl observed in a piece about Publicité Sauvage’s 25th anniversary in 2012.
But as Etingin observed in her communiqué about the exhibition, which runs from Nov. 7 to 20, the poster art of Publicité Sauvage has gone “from subculture to mainstream.”
Company director Isabelle Jalbert called the exhibition “an exceptional opportunity for Publicité Sauvage to showcase its collection in a gallery devoted to the art and beauty of the poster.”
The exhibition marks the first time Etingin is showing contemporary posters at L’Affichiste: The space on St-François Xavier St. is normally devoted to vintage posters. And it marks the first time that Publicité Sauvage posters are being offered for sale on a large scale.
Tomasz Walenta, an internationally known artist, illustrator and cartoonist who studied at the Université du Québec à Montréal, has been commissioned to create a poster for the collaboration.
Wart, an inveterate collector, owns close to 50,000 posters. Etingin and Jalbert chose 50 from the Publicité Sauvage archives — posters that provide visual references to concerts, exhibitions, plays and other cultural events in Montreal over the past 27 years.
“I think it is a very good collaboration,” said Jalbert. “For one (thing), Karen adores posters. And to showcase our past, our heritage, by showing the posters is also something.”
For many of us, museum exhibitions and gallery shows can be intimidating. We’re shy about stepping forward to say we like a work and embarrassed to say we don’t quite get it. And often what is on offer at many commercial galleries is beyond the budgets of most.
“A lot about these posters is irreverent, and that is, to me, part of their great appeal,” said Etingin. “They are quirky; they are accessible; they appeal to people who don’t have preconceived ideas.
“And if you have a limited budget or are decorating a loft or first apartment, they’re great.” The posters sell for $100 to $200.
It was from the Publicité Sauvage archives, a kind of “Ali Baba’s cave,” as Jalbert put it, that longtime UQAM design professor Marc Choko organized a series of 15 exhibitions featuring about 750 posters in 2012. The exhibitions took place in locations including the Cinémathèque québécoise and Dawson College.
“I thought some of their posters were amazing, and so I started with a few posters from the 25th anniversary and then asked for posters from the archives to do a show,” said Etingin, who met Jalbert during the 25th-anniversary celebrations.
Etingin’s idea was to show them and, if the cultural organizations that had commissioned them approved, to sell them. Publicité Sauvage had never sold its posters because, after all, it’s in the business of posting posters.
In other poster news, a collection of 12-by-18-inch versions of the posters created for the Publicité Sauvage anniversary was launched Oct. 22 at the boutique of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. They will be sold, along with other poster collections, at the museum boutique and at DeSerres, the art and craft supply store.
The exhibition will run Nov. 7 to 20, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.