George McGovern and the Democratic Insurgents: The Best Campaign and Political Posters of the Last Fifty Years by Hal Elliott Wert (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
George McGovern and the Democratic Insurgents: The Best Campaign and Political Posters of the Last Fifty Years. By Hal Elliott Wert. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. ix + 243 pp. Illustrations. $34.95 paper.

Hal Elliott Wert's coffee-table book is a compendium of gorgeously reproduced campaign posters of the 1968 and 1972 presidential elections. Focusing primarily on two of the Midwest's most illustrious politicians, Minnesota's Eugene McCarthy and South Dakota's George McGovern, the book is a peon to the honesty, dedication, and patriotism of these two senators. Both men sought to take on the establishment and throw themselves wholly into the effort to end the tragedy of the Vietnam War.

The first section of the book aptly starts with the hard-hitting posters of the civil rights movement, then the psychedelic posters advertising rock and roll bands in the mid-sixties ("Psychedelic posters were in many respects art nouveau on acid" [10]), and finishes with the stirring in-your-face posters of the antiwar movement. These three themes of poster art culminated in the expressive and emotional posters created for Senator Eugene McCarthy's 1968 campaign for president.

Throughout the book Wert convincingly argues that the heyday, both politically and most importantly aesthetically, of campaign posters was the heyday of psychedelic art. Of course the period about which he writes was an extraordinary period in all ways—musically, artistically, even stylewise—as a generation sought new, creative ways not only of expressing dissenting political views, but also to live life authentically.

After the sections on the McCarthy and McGovern posters that comprise the bulk of the book, he deals with post-1972 campaign posters and the decline of the creative dynamism that characterized the artists of the rebellious sixties. It was the Obama candidacy of 2008 that reinvigorated political campaign posters as the hope generated by Obama spawned enthusiasm among poster artists. The year produced the finest posters since 1972.

Although Wert gives some historical context in introductory comments to each section, his emphasis is primarily on the artists and the aesthetics of the posters. Some of the artists are internationally famous—Alexander Calder, Ben Shahn, Andy Warhol, Larry Rivers, and others—but most are journeymen artists and [End Page 64] graphic designers. A nice touch is Wert's explanation of how the artistry and style of the bulk of the posters was influenced by such previous artistic movements such as art nouveau and Bauhaus. Wert also spends some time explaining the actual technical aspects of reproducing posters, whether silk screening or offset printing or even the types of ink used in the process. A few of his historical comments need to be clarified better. For example, he refers to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as John Lewis's organization, despite the fact that many others besides Lewis, such as Ella Baker, Marion Barry, Julian Bond, and Stokely Carmichael, played significant roles in SNCC's leadership.

Wert has successfully gathered together a collection of just about all the political posters that I remember seeing during this crucial time, as well as scores that I had never seen before. It is truly a delight to turn the pages and see what image crops up next. He has certainly proven that the political poster is "at the heart of politics at a pivotal and trying time in our nation's history" (xiv). It is a beautiful book.

Ralph Young
Department of History
Temple University
...


pdf