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Published: Friday, 6/11/2010

Turn on to Psychedelic 60s

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

he Summer of Love glides into the Toledo Museum of Art for three mind-expanding months tomorrow with The Psychedelic 60s: Posters from the Rock Era, through Sept. 12.

It's been 43 years since the flowers-in-your-hair San Francisco summer that launched a movement; a time that frightened parents and even a president, but apparently long-enough ago for its ephemera to be viewed as art by a mainstream museum.

These 150 posters were hand-drawn, then silk-screened or lithographed by a slew of artists, some of whom, such as Lee Conklin (no relation to the Toledo news anchor), aimed to translate the hallucinatory drug experience onto paper with balloon lettering and fantastical images a la Salvador Dali .

A hundred of these framed posters, mostly 18-by-22-inches, promoted concerts at two San Francisco venues, the Fillmore and the Avalon.

The entry to the Canaday Gallery is freshly painted with four coats of an eggplant purple and hung with a 10-foot-by-12-foot blowup; it's a poster detail by Bonnie MacLean, the only woman whose work is here. With gorgeous color combinations and flowing structures (often female faces), hers are arguably the most beautiful pieces represented.

Adding to the ambiance, museum staff built a vintage stage (dancing encouraged) with old speakers and a huge screen portraying an hour of concert footage of groups featured on the posters: The Who, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Simon and Garfunkel, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Ravi Shankar, Santana, and Country Joe and the Fish.

After passing through a beaded curtain, you'll enter a darkened room with 50 larger posters, phosphorescently brilliant in the glow of black lights. They proclaim the era's ideology: rock music, drugs, sex, and politics.

"With a black light, the colors are enhanced tenfold. It promotes an aura that's indescribable," says Houston Freeburg, the Memphis owner of the entire collection.

Freeburg, 56, discovered them at the age of 14 and plastered them to the walls of his bedroom's alcove. He began collecting seven years ago.

"I was on eBay, looking up a black-light poster I had as a child and lost, and I saw a Bill Graham [producer at the Fillmore] poster and I was just stunned by the price they were asking for it" - more than $1,000.

"I was kind of looking for a place to invest. I didn't have anything tangible that I could look at now and then. Next thing I knew I had about 1,250 posters," he said in a telephone interview with The Blade.

Poster stylings grew out of California's hot-rod and surf scenes, he said.

This is the first show conceived and executed by Amy Gilman, the museum's associate curator of modern and contemporary art.

"This body of work had an impact on not only graphic design and the culture but in a way that possibly is only equivalent to the posters of Toulouse-Lautrec," she said.

"We had been wanting to do something that would be a fun summer show with great appeal and a few years ago, Houston had sent us an e-mail asking if we were interested in showing a couple of his posters," said Gilman, who was born the year many of the posters were made.

Contact Tahree Lane at:

tlane@theblade.com

or 419-724-6075.



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