Russian-born designer Alexander Gelman worked in the United States during the 1990s and early 2000s. His simple icons strive not so much to capture the essence of a subject, but rather to offer an off-kilter view of it. Here, a table lamp represents a poetry reading. The illustration is, one might say, beside the point.

Poster, Walls of the City, 1992. Alexander Gelman (Russian, active USA, b. 1967). Screenprint. 100 × 69.9 cm (39 3/8 × 27 1/2 in.). Gift of Design Machine, 1998-32-18.

Poster, Walls of the City, 1992. Alexander Gelman (Russian, active USA, b. 1967). Screenprint. 100 × 69.9 cm (39 3/8 × 27 1/2 in.). Gift of Design Machine, 1998-32-18.

This composition, also by Gelman, references the incidental collages of torn posters that may be found layered on the street. We perceive two planes (two sheets of paper) because the lines of text that seem to be printed on each one align visually.

Ellen Lupton is Senior Curator of Contemporary Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and Director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art.

The exhibition How Posters Work is currently on view at Cooper Hewitt through November 15, 2015.  You can learn more at the exhibition homepage  and find the book How Posters Work at SHOP Cooper Hewitt. #HowPostersWork

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