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‘Underground Images’: SVA’s Iconic Subway Posters on View in Philadelphia

“Underground Images,” SVA’s traveling exhibition of its iconic, faculty-designed subway posters, has returned from overseas to begin a U.S. tour. The forthcoming shows have been arranged by exhibition co-organizer and MFA Illustration as Visual Essay faculty member Mirko Ilić with chapters of AIGA around the country, offering a wide-spread and respected network of design-community members with whom to partner. On Friday, May 12, the latest iteration will open in Philadelphia, hosted by the local AIGA chapter—the first local chapter to be established in the nation—at Bluecadet gallery space, in the city’s Fishtown neighborhood.

Unique to the upcoming installation is its trim appearance. Due to the small size of the venue, co-organizer and director of SVA Galleries Francis Di Tommaso and exhibitions manager Tyson Skross had to be judicious in their planning. “We had to make a very narrow selection of only 23 posters, as opposed to the full exhibition complement of 60, that would still be representative of the six decades that SVA's subway posters have been in existence,” explains Di Tommaso. The exhibition space is a gallery annex in digital agency Bluecadet’s office complex and is being put to full use with a staggered wall-hang and freestanding, double-sided display stanchions. Arranged chronologically, they trace the legacy of the College and individual faculty as well as elements of the history of design.

“Underground Images” is culled from the College’s archives of posters that, designed since the early years of the school by its faculty members, serve as advertisement for and emblem of the creative talent supported at SVA. Specifically designed for New York City subway platforms, they are as inseparable from their urban environment and exploratory ethos as the school itself is. The AIGA partnership for this leg of the exhibition is particularly apt: as the largest professional membership organization for design, they advocate for the working, professional artists so celebrated in “Underground Images.” Artists commissioned for the series, and featured in the Philadelphia show, include Milton Glaser, Louise Fili, Stefan Sagmeister, Paula Scher and George Tscherny, among many others. “Underground Images” is curated by SVA Executive Vice President Anthony P. Rhodes, who has served as creative director for the posters since 2007.

After traveling to 20 different countries since 2013, including South Africa, France, Russia, South Korea and Brazil, “Underground Images” will make its next several stops back here in the States. “Underground Images: SVA Subway Posters, 1947 to the Present” is on view at Bluecadet, 1526 Frankford Avenue, in Philadelphia from May 12 to June 30.

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