What You Should Know About Collecting Exhibition Posters

Purchasing art exhibition posters is an accessible and often affordable entrée into the poster collecting. Of course, anyone can walk into a museum and purchase an exhibition poster of their favorite works in the collection—and for the time being, those contemporary purchases are going to be worth exactly what you paid for them. Generally, exhibition posters are less valuable than other poster genres because they are, for all intents and purposes, reproductions of the artist’s work, rather than a unique design. Largely, the posters weren’t created by the artists themselves, but “after” their original artworks. So what drives the value of an exhibition poster? Lauren Goldberg, our vintage poster specialist, takes us through the ins-and-outs of what to look for in an exhibition poster.

 

What to Look for in an Exhibition Poster

Prime examples of exhibition posters that were designed by the advertised artist include several works by Henri Matisse.

 
Henri Matisse, Galerie Maeght / Le Noir est un Couleur, exhibition poster, 1946.
Henri Matisse, Galerie Maeght / Le Noir est un Couleur, 1946. Sold February 4, 2010, in Vintage Posters for $2,040.
 
Henri Matisse, Maison de la Pensee, exhibition poster, 1950
Henri Matisse, Maison de la Pensee, 1950. Sold May 10, 2012, in Modernist Posters for $1,140.
 

In some cases, there are historical exhibition posters which also have value as documents of the era, such as this famous and rare poster for the first Armory Exhibition of Modern Art in 1913, and its more common, modern counterpart by Duchamp from 1963.

 
Designer Unknown,  International Exhibition of Modern Art, exhibition poster, 1913.
Designer Unknown, International Exhibition of Modern Art, 1913. Sold May 10, 2016, in Graphic Design for $7,800.
 
Marcel Duchamp, 50th Anniversary of the Famous International Armory Show 1913, exhibition poster, 1963.
Marcel Duchamp, 50th Anniversary of the Famous International Armory Show 1913, 1963. Sold May 23, 2019, in Graphic Design for $650.
 

Contemporary Exhibition Posters

For more recent exhibition posters, the evaluation relies on several different variables. Here are some tips on collecting art exhibition posters in the current market:

 

Is the poster hand-signed?


One of the best indications that your art poster has value is the presence of the artist’s signature. Often, the authentic signature is the most desirable part of the poster—it establishes that the artist had personal contact with the artwork, and implies that a limited quantity of signed copies exist.

 
Marc Chagall, Marc Chagall / Peinures Récentes, exhibition poster, 1978.
Marc Chagall, Marc Chagall / Peinures Récentes, 1978. Sold February 13, 2020, in Vintage Posters for $2,125.
 

Here’s a Chagall Gallery poster we recently sold for $2,125 at an estimate of $700 to $1000. Though an attractive poster on its own, we owe much of the success of this sale to the autograph signature and date by Chagall in ink.

 

Who is the artist? 


To further expand on the first question—the artist’s signature may make a poster valuable, but much of that depends on the identity of the artist. Is your poster signed by Warhol? Great! Keith Haring? Fantastic! Peter Max?… less fantastic. If the artist (like Max), is still living, prolific, and regularly signing their artwork, you may not have enough value there for auction. Other artists who have been represented in our auctions include Christo, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Joan Miró, David Hockney, Almir Mavignier, Tadanori Yokoo and John Baldessari.

 
Andy Warhol, Exhibition of the Greatest Star of the Century, exhibition poster, 1974.
Andy Warhol, Exhibition of the Greatest Star of the Century, 1974. Sold August 7, 2019, in Vintage Posters for $1,000.
 

Sometimes, if the artist is significant enough, and the poster is rarely seen on the market, it doesn’t need to be signed to get a good price. In 2019 this rare Warhol poster sold for $1000, with an original estimate of $400 to $600

 

Is it readily available?


Do a quick Google search for the title and artist of the poster—if you are finding endless results on eBay, unfortunately, the market may already be too inundated for an auction house to sell your poster. Posters designed to advertise museum and gallery shows were ephemeral, and not intended to be kept forever. When only a few visitors recognized their aesthetic or cultural importance and held onto them—that’s when we may have an exciting work on our hands.

 
Barbara Kruger, Don't Look Now / Whitney Museum, exhibition poster, 1989.
Barbara Kruger, Don’t Look Now / Whitney Museum, 1989. Sold May 23, 2019, in Graphic Design for $938.
 

This poster by Barbara Kruger for a 1989 Whitney Museum exhibit had not previously come up at auction when we offered it in 2019. That scarcity, combined with the artist’s fame and the striking graphics, made this a worthy item to sell at auction.

Related Reading: On Buying a Vintage Poster: What You Need To Know
 

Gallery and Museum Mailers

 
Roy Lichtenstein, Leo Castelli gallery mailer, from a group lot of six various mailers, 1960s
Roy Lichtenstein, Leo Castelli gallery mailer, from a group lot of six various mailers, 1960s. Sold March 1, 2018, in Vintage Posters for $2,375.
 

A subset of exhibition posters that have experienced a boost in interest are gallery and museum invitations and mailers. With their folds, stamps and mailing address, they hold cultural and historic value and proof of provenance that makes them collectible.

 
Jasper Johns, gallery mailer from a group of seven various mailers, circa 1960s.
Jasper Johns, gallery mailer from a group of seven various mailers, circa 1960s. Sold March 16, 2017, in Vintage Posters for $2,125.
 

Over the past few years, we have seen growing interest in exhibition posters, and we’ve begun to include more and more of them in our sales. They represent the potential to own something signed by a famous artist, without the price tag of their original art—or to own an eye-catching vintage piece, with visual appeal.

Related Reading: WPA Posters: Favorites from a Vintage Posters Specialist
 

Do you have an exhibition poster or mailer we should look at?

Learn about how to consign to an auction, and send us a note about your item.

 

Looking for more collector’s guides? Read more about collecting photo editions, manuscript diaries or Currier & Ives prints.