Tomorrow “How Posters Work” opens at the Cooper Hewitt, an exhibition curated by Ellen Lupton with Caitlin Condell, and accompanied by a book that includes posters by progressive group “Post No Bills,” started by James Victore. 

Sometime in 1992, James had an idea. He had come to New York City from his hometown of Buffalo to become a poster designer, only to find that such a career didn’t exist. Undeterred, he had produced his iconic Racism poster; then, hankering to do more, came up with the idea of a poster collective. He enlisted me to help set it up. He named the group “Post No Bills” after the stenciled lettering on construction sites throughout the city.

Racism poster by James Victore
Racism poster by James Victore

And so our group was formed: James, John Gall, Leah Lococo, Morris Taub, Susan Walsh, and myself. We met at James and Leah’s apartment to discuss our plans and agreed to reconvene with poster concepts. As Bush was in office and it was an election year, there was a particular sense of urgency, though we also discussed other issues to address. As best as I can recall some 20-plus years later, I then brought my daughter’s old baby bottle (which I suppose I had hung onto for sentimental reasons) with me to the next meeting. I took out the bottle and explained my idea for an anti-racism poster that would convey how hatred is spoon-fed to offspring at an early age. We spent much time discussing what offensive words to use. When we finally agreed upon a list, James grabbed the bottle and he and Leah made a negative Photostat.

Bush/Quayle '92 by Post No Bills
Bush/Quayle ’92 by Post No Bills

By the next meeting James applied the warning label: “Prolonged exposure can cause damage…” The group made the decision to maintain the grid of the Photostat board and white artist tape around the edges (something I have had mixed feelings about all these years, but such is the collective effort), and we hired stealth poster “snipers” to hang the posters on construction sites throughout Manhattan. We were off and running.

Two more posters followed, both around the national election. John Gall designed the “Bush/Quayle ’92” poster and James the “Traditional Family Values” poster, a catch phrase during the campaign. Both those posters carried the “Post No Bills” credit line and were paid for by our shared resources. I have always thought of them akin to the Beatles’ White Album: solo outings, masked as a group effort. And like the Beatles, we broke up soon thereafter.

Traditional Family Values by Post No Bills
Traditional Family Values by Post No Bills

James went on to prove there is a career in poster design, and since “Post No Bills” was his idea in the first place, he should have the last word:

“I remember that poster and it’s collaborative nature, as being my first and last interest in group projects. I was never good at team sports. But I always loved how our sessions involved good red wine.”