Review of
4973: Berkeley Protest Posters 1970

4973: Berkeley Protest Posters 1970
Francis Boutle Publishers (London), 2008

Political posters are a genre that covers a lot of ground, and suffers from a remarkable lack of attention by scholars and institutions. With the exception of those produced during major historical events (such as the Spanish Civil War or the Chinese Cultural Revolution) tremendous gaps exist in scholarship around the countless posters produced since ink first hit paper to influence people’s minds.

Given this void, one would like to welcome 4973: Berkeley Protest Posters 1970 into the ranks of books shedding light on an important but poorly-documented moment in poster history. After all, second only to the workshops in Paris during the 1968 general strike, the rash of political printmaking that blossomed in the United States in May-June 1970 stands as one of the defining moments in the modern poster renaissance. However, although at first glance the book looks good – over 150 color illustrations and some text - this book is so superficial and exploitative that it sets a shamefully low standard.

This is, in fact, a hastily assembled glorified sales catalog enhancing the value of a private collection. Aside from numerous small factual errors, it contains no original research, no bibliography, no interviews with scholars or participants, no photographs of printing or exhibitions, and no original analysis based in scholarship. Every one of the Berkeley workshop posters in the book comes from a single purchase made from a Berkeley antiquarian book dealer in early 2007. Even where there are only minor variants in ink color or paper, all are included the book – along with details of their physical condition, essential for establishing value but highly unusual for books or exhibition catalogs.

The short introductory essay does little more than provide a broad background, much of it skimmed from readily available public websites, and no sources are credited. Two major known institutional collections – U.C. Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and the University of British Columbia- are casually mentioned, but not explored. No one who has been involved in this area of poster scholarship was contacted for advice or background.

My advice? Save your $50 and wait for a better book. Current efforts at both of the academic repositories, as well as work in progress from other significant private collections such as Michael Rossman’s "All Of Us Or None" Archive (now at the Oakland Museum of California) and the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles, are steadily assembling the image documentation and research that will truly help place these posters in the broader scope of political printmaking.

Lincoln Cushing
Docs Populi/ Documents for the Public
posted 8/22/2008, revised 4/8/2012

For the original exposition about these posters, see introduction here
and also exhibition "Up Against the Wall : Berkeley Posters from the 1960s"