International Print Center of New York’s most recent show was “ Coming Attraction: Cuban Movie Posters – from the Collection of Merrill C. Berman.” This exhibition continues IPCNY’s tradition of international shows focused on hyper-specific themes untouched by any other institution in the city.
Stephen Heller characterized these prints as “famous around the world for their brash originality and bright, clear graphic sensibility,” in the show’s press. He is the co-chair of the Designer as Author MFA Program at the School of Visual Arts and his assessment rings true, as leas for some.
As a whole, the prints display the best characteristics of graphic design. Each artist has personal style yet the subjects depicted are instantly recognizable. A hammer is a hammer, a rose is a rose, and yet each carries the traces of the artist’s hand and perception of their subject.
Two artists stand out, Eduardo Muñoz Bachs and René Cárdenas Azcuy. Both artists traffic primarily in deep blacks and reds, while Bach introduces a thick forest green to his prints as well. Their colors are simple, engaging, yet also political. Many of the films are political, coming from mid to late 20th century Cuba, and the red and black reflect the this content through the predominant state colors of the time. Yet there, the similarity ends.
Cárdenas Azcuy’s images are dark, singular, and erupt from their black backdrop like a cat dashing beneath a streetlight at midnight. His prints focus on detail and capture the same paranoia as Alfred Hitchcock films of the late 50s and 60s.
Bach’s images are more akin to a New Yorker or Playboy cartoon. His images are softer in terms of line and content and he uses text to graphic ends, repeating words and phrases to create imagery. The pairing of line and text creates a comedic element in Bach’s work.
Although some prints quickly fade from memory, these two artists will not.