‘Underground Images: A History’ at SVA Chelsea Gallery




2021: Art Is!, Hyesu Lee (designer), Anthony P. Rhodes (executive creative director), Gail Anderson (creative director), Brian E. Smith (art director)

SVA Galleries presents an exhibition of more than 200 posters from its iconic Subway Poster Collection, which have covered the walls of NYC transit stations over the past 75 years. In addition to the posters, this time capsule tribute to the College’s history includes historical sketches, paintings, photographs, videos, and even a recreated NYC subway platform. Works by 93 celebrated graphic artists, including Milton Glaser, Paula Scher, Marshall Arisman, Paul Davis, and Gail Anderson, present a range of styles and mediums that tell the story of SVA from its inception as Cartoonist & Illustrators School in 1947 through today. Exhibition on view August 29th.

1961: Every Wall Is a Door, George Tscherny (designer and photographer), Silas H. Rhodes (art director)

“Since the earliest days of the College, the subway posters have done more than just generate interest in SVA. They’ve stirred the imaginations of New Yorkers and the countless aspiring and practicing artists who visit the city each year,” said SVA President David Rhodes. “Exhibiting them all over the world has been an adventure, but we are thrilled to present this collection and its fascinating history in the place where it all began.”

Also included is the most recent poster set to debut in stations this fall, which pays homage to the 50th anniversary of Hip-Hop with a photograph by alumnus and faculty member Angel R. Ibañez, a fixture on the scene in the 1970s and 80s who has taken portraits of artists like Run-D.M.C. and James Brown.

1986: To Be Good Is Not Enough, When You Dream…, Jerry Moriarty (illustrator), William Kobasz (designer), Dee Ito (copywriter), Silas H. Rhodes (creative director)

Not long after its inception in 1947 as the Cartoonists & Illustrators School, SVA began commissioning these posters from some of its most esteemed faculty members as creative marketing for the College, then took them to the walls lining the NYC subway platforms. These advertising posters were both thought-provoking and eye-catching and have become an essential part of the fabric of the city’s transit system. Since 2006, the traveling iteration of “Underground Images” has been exhibited globally, including in the Czech Republic, India, Jamaica, Ireland, Turkey, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Italy, Serbia and many other countries and US cities.

Projections of the “Subway Series” videos, plus historical photographs, original artworks, objects, oral histories and the subway platform reproduction, will offer an expansive and immersive background on one of the most enduring public art projects in the city. From the familiar prompt “Art Is…” which challenged poster artists to define the practice to activist messages and aspirational taglines, these special pieces of the College’s legacy also serve as a touchstone for understanding the often complex times in which they were created.

2014: I Am a Work in Progress (B), Clay Patrick McBride (photographer), Anthony P. Rhodes (creative director)

This exhibition closes out a full year of celebrations recognizing SVA’s 75th anniversary, a milestone marked by last fall’s special issue of the College’s biannual print publication the Visual Arts Journal, a New York City Mayoral proclamation presented in December 2022, and a commemorative subway poster by famed designer, alumnus and former faculty member Paul Davis (1959 Illustration).

Underground Images: A History will be on View from August 29 to October 14, 2023 at SVA Chelsea Gallery, 601 West 26th Street, 15th Floor, NYC.

Take a look back (2017) to Milton Glaser’s three new posters added to SVA’s Underground Images ad campaign.