Friday, 4 November 2011

A Child’s dream – The art of the Circus poster

“The circus of the present day is judged by the quality of its paper."

W C Coups promotional Carny Cash
"I believe I ordered the first three-​sheet lithograph ever made… This was considered a piece of foolishness; but when I ordered a hundred-​sheet bill and first used it in Brooklyn it was considered such a curiosity that show people visited the City of Churches for the express purpose of looking at this advertising marvel. How things have changed!”

W C Coup –

Sawdust and spangles, stories and secrets of the circus (1901)

“One of the most beautiful and artful of the posters is “The Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth:  a Child’s Dream,” 
an 1896 lithograph that depicts a child in bed surrounded by a Bosch-like wreath of circus performers.  The poster dances toward nightmare, with clowns riding ostriches, bears with clown collars standing on one another’s shoulders, a monkey riding a harlequin in a makeshift rodeo, all printed in the rich, fermented colors of a Max Ernst painting.  Collage couldn’t do this:  there’s something both innocently disturbing and disturbingly innocent here, with a text banner at the bottom reading:   
“This smiling face is multiplied a million times a year.  Whereas the children’s friend this wondrous show appears:  with sunny gleams of fairyland, with scenes of merriest glee, with cute and cunning animals for either side of the sea.”

"The language is arcane, the imagery antique, but there’s a mysteriousness that transcends purpose, and gives this poster a nostalgic fervor “fine art” doesn’t usually muster.  It’s serendipity:  you the gallery-goer stumbling upon an accidental connection between circus and Surrealism, Barnum & Bailey and contemporary art (the “street art” of Banksey or Shepherd Fairey for instance) that tries to use the forms of advertising (text, printing, hyperbole) but can only come up with thematic irony at best, self-aggrandizement at worst."

"Shadow boxes become poetic theaters or settings wherein are metamorphosed the element of a childhood pastime.”  Joseph Cornell.

 "The sincerity involved in trying to sell the dream to the child gives this poster its enigmatic power, and somehow allows this simple, humble poster a way out of kitsch and into dream.  
It’s the same alchemy Joseph Cornell employed when building his shadow-box paeans to lonely glamorous hotels:  what is publically fashioned as luxury and thrill becomes a secret you keep in order to return to a paradise that really isn’t there, on Earth at least.  Cornell’s shadow-boxes, like many of the posters in “The Amazing American Circus Poster,” depict life as transient and full of moments you can only capture through fantasy, an encyclopedia of cotton-candy mysticism, seediness transcending into longing, and longing melting into trance."

"These posters still mirror desires and excitements that become renditions of what we often forget we need:   
spectacle, absurdity, delight.”

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