‘Underground Images’: SVA’s Iconic Subway Posters Resurface on a Boat in Budapest
November 10, 2016 by Emma Drew
Boat anchored to a dock, lit up at nighttime.
A long hallway with a curved ceiling. The walls, floor, and ceiling are lined with posters.

SVA's world-traveling “Underground Images” exhibition will help inaugurate the first international PosterFest in Budapest, taking place November 15 – 26. Made up of selections from the College's archives of promotional posters, which have been designed by faculty members since 1947 for display in New York City's subway stations, “Underground Images” showcases the creative thinking and graphic skills of noted artists, designers and illustrators, and is a perfect fit for the recently established festival. PosterFest Budapest "re-breathes life into posters,” state organizers on the event's website, and celebrates the poster's roles as communication tool, art form and valuable contribution to everyday visual culture.

MFA Illustration as Visual Essay faculty member Mirko Ilić, co-organizer of the exhibition with SVA Galleries Director Francis DiTommaso, will preside over the opening next week. Ilić's work will also be on display in the invited international artists section of PosterFest. Other exhibitions include juried selections of Hungarian designers' work and of posters responding to the 60th anniversary of the country's revolution against Soviet policies. “As with every major European city, Budapest has a long tradition and special locations for displaying posters in the city,” says Ilić, who arranged this stop.

The street is provided with bright lights.
A38 Ship

In this instance, however, the posters will instead be on the water. The gallery, A38 Ship, is a multipurpose exhibition and concert space housed in a converted Ukrainian stone-carrier ship and berthed on the banks of the Danube. At each stop on the "Underground Images" tour, SVA Galleries works closely with the hosting venue to produce the show. In Budapest, the 52 posters on display will be arranged chronologically in a checkerboard pattern to maximize the number of works included as well as the space around each one, and they will occupy the full expanse of the gallery walls. While previous installations have recreated elements of New York's subway tunnels and platforms, A38’s streamlined space will highlight the diversity and breadth of the posters and take advantage of the gallery's window-lined wall looking out onto the river.

A man in a gallery of colorful artistic pieces.
A rendering of what the 'Underground Images" exhibition in Budapest will look like when it opens on November 15.

“The artists who've designed the subway posters and taught at SVA are some of the most important American designers of the 20th and 21st centuries,” notes SVA Archivist Beth Kleber, who often travels with the exhibition and gives lectures on the collection. Exhibition artists include Gail Anderson, Sal De Vito, Milton Glaser, Steven Heller and Paula Scher, among many others, design icons “who no doubt have a big impact on the rest of the world,” adds Ilić.

“Underground Images” is curated by SVA Executive Vice President Anthony P. Rhodes, who has served as creative director for the posters since 2007. An endeavor equal parts publicity, education and diplomacy, Kleber says that “fundamentally, the campaign [and exhibition] demonstrate the power and possibilities of art education and a career as an artist.”

Since 2013, “Underground Images” has touched down in Brazil, China, Turkey, France, South Korea and many other countries; the next stop will be Cape Town, South Africa, in March 2017, as part of the Design Indaba Conference on global and African creativity. A more extensive U.S. tour is also planned for next year. For more information about “Underground Images,” click here.