Modernity’s New Medium

Ruth E. Iskin (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev), ‘Modernity’s New Medium: The Illustrated Advertising Poster’


The roots of the term “media” in the emerging advertising industry of the nineteenth century coincide with, and are closely related to, the advent of the poster as a new medium. Integrating methodologies from material culture, art history, design history, advertising studies, media archaeology, reception studies, and historiography, this paper argues that the nineteenth-century illustrated advertising poster was a major new medium of modernity in France from the late 1880s and in other industrialized nations from the early 1890s up until the early 1900s, and constituted an early form of spectacular media that transformed the urban environment. The paper excavates the historical impact of this visual medium when it was still new, by considering the critical reception of the poster by journalists and critics. It analyzes the characteristics of the poster medium as they relate to its specific site of the street and its material conditions of display. These conditions of the poster’s site of display included a quick pace of change, ephemerality, ubiquity, and unpredictable juxtapositions within the urban space. Taking these into account the paper examines the perceptual particularities that characterized the encounters of passers-by with the poster, such as the fact that posters were viewed ‘on-the-go’ and within an environment of competing distractions. It demonstrates that poster artists invented a new aesthetic, and new rhetorical strategies to suit the poster’s conditions of display. Finally, it situates the poster in the age of the color lithographic press, paper, urban expansion, industrialization, and mass consumption and assesses it as a transitional medium that lost its primacy in the urban and media environment of the early twentieth century.


Ruth E. Iskin’s The Poster: Art, Advertising, Design, and Collecting, 1860s-1900s was published in 2014 (Dartmouth Press) and her Modern Women and Parisian Consumer Culture in Impressionist Painting in 2007 (Cambridge University Press, 2007; Chinese edition, 2010; English paperback, 2014). She is the editor of Re-envisioning the Contemporary Art Canon: Perspectives in a Global World (Routledge, January, 2017). Iskin obtained her PhD from UCLA and her articles appeared in journals, including the Art Bulletin, Discourse, Visual Resources, Nineteenth-Century Art World Wide, Nineteenth-Century Contexts, The Woman’s Art Journal, and in anthologies and museum catalogues, most recently in a catalogue by the Guggenheim Bilbao and by the Museu de Arte de São Paulo. Her writings have been translated into Chinese, Czech, Danish, Hebrew, Spanish, Basque language, and Portuguese. Her work has been supported by CASVA (Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts), at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. among others. Professor (Emerita), Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Department of the Arts, she currently lectures in Israel and abroad.

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