Born too late to be a certified member of the hippie counterculture, Ted Bahr describes himself as “60s aware.” “It was a utopia that existed for a short time,” says the owner of Oyster Bay's Bahr Gallery, who estimates he attended more than 100 Grateful Dead concerts. “It’s a nice thing to appreciate.”
As testament to his appreciation, Bahr has been acquiring first-edition psychedelic rock posters from the late 1960s since the early ’80s, when he moved to San Francisco for a 15-year stint before coming back east. Years later, he realized the groovy graphics would be the perfect antidote for the blank hallway walls of his Melville-based publishing and trade show business BZ Media. When he sold the company in 2017, his wife, whom Bahr admits isn’t as keen on the genre, suggested that he sell the posters. “I am not sure opening the gallery was what she meant,” he muses.
Now Bahr Gallery, which is dedicated to showing original rock posters from the era, is hosting its seventh exhibition selected from the dealer’s roughly 1,000-piece inventory. “Wes Wilson and Victor Moscoso: A Dual Retrospective” features revolutionary designs by two of the school’s so-called Big Five founding artists. As in the Belle Epoque period at the turn of the 19th century, the posters were conceived as advertisements, in contrast to today’s popular commemorative concert renditions.
“By mid-1966 the artists and promoters realized that the posters were disappearing from the telephone poles and construction site walls they were tacked on,” says Bahr. The desirability of the highly designed announcements began to increase by the early 1970s, he notes, when rock bands turned instead to FM radio and newspapers to publicize ticket sales.
The current exhibition is a particularly timely look at one of its headliner’s careers. Wilson, credited with inventing the medium’s free-form psychedelic font, which he modeled on Vienna Secessionist styling, died in January at 82. Among his works on display is “The Association,” the first where “the lettering is the image.” Another iconic lithograph included in the show is “The Sound,” one of many Wilson designed to advertise rock musician promoter Bill Graham concerts. The voluptuous nude woman dancing in the middle of words like “Jefferson Airplane” and “Muddy Waters” became a recurrent motif. “His wife, Eva, would typically be the model,” says Bahr.
Moscoso, a psychedelic poster artist who had formal training (he studied at Yale under artist and color theorist Josef Albers), is also represented by seminal works, noteworthy for his trademark use of intense hues and pulsing edges. Most familiar, no doubt, is “Neon Rose Number 12, Chambers Brothers.” The print features a close-up of a woman sporting sunglasses whose lenses are filled with psychedelic typeface, a composition that inspired the poster promoting the Kate Hudson movie “Almost Famous.”
“They didn’t realize their impact, that they were making anything of enduring value” says Bahr of his graphic heroes. “There was no time to think about what they were doing. They were creating, as Stanley Mouse, one of the Big Five, noted, ‘in a furious moment.’ ”
WHAT “Wes Wilson and Victor Moscoso: A Dual Retrospective"
WHEN | WHERE Through May 30, 1-5 p.m. Friday-Saturday and by appointment, Bahr Gallery, 95 Audrey Ave., Oyster Bay
INFO Free; 516-283-1967, bahrgallery.com