The Houston Freeburg Collection
150 of my posters were on display in 2010 at the Toledo Museum of Art. Over 100,000 people showed up for this trip back to the psychedelic sixties. Brooks Art Gallery of Memphis exhibited some 40 in 2008. Below are some articles relating to the shows and my collection.
Houston Freeburg: Rock Posters Are His Passion
Part of his extensive collection makes a stop at the Toledo Museum of Art to pay homage to the psychedelic ’60s
by: Frank McCoy | from: AARP Bulletin | April 28, 2010
In 1968, Houston Freeburg became addicted. He just didn’t know it at the time. His compulsion for collecting rock ’n’ roll concert posters emerged full-blown decades later as both a remembrance of music past and a valuable hobby. In June, he’ll share his passion when 150 of his posters go on display for the exhibit “The Psychedelic ’60s: Posters From the Rock Era” at the Toledo Museum of Art.
Freeburg’s fascination with rock concert posters took off at age 14. A twentysomething teacher at his conservative private boys school in Memphis decided to take 40 kids to New York City for a few days. “I asked my parents and they weren’t concerned. They thought it was my own thing. The teacher brought us there and turned us loose,” says Freeburg. “It was a different time.”
The mandatory events were a teenage dream: Go to a performance of the musical Hair and attend a Procol Harum concert at the Fillmore East. During the trip, Freeburg bought a few black-light posters to go with those in his bedroom, and one of rock god Jimi Hendrix.
In 2004, Freeburg remembered the posters and searched his parents’ house for them. But like many other boomers, who had possessed once-cherished comic books, Barbies and baseball cards, he found that his treasures were gone. So he went on eBay and discovered a time machine that took him back to the posters of his youth. It had “all the ones I had as a kid and more, and I couldn’t help but notice how exorbitant the prices were.”
Undeterred, he bought one, then another, and another, as well as books that taught him which posters were the most valuable. Seven hundred fifty concert posters and 500 black light posters later, Freeburg, 56, has a stellar collection that captures the period’s psychedelic, creative chaos and countercultural ethos, and evokes its pulsating dance floors, drugs, sex and rock ’n’ roll vibe.
Today’s priciest concert posters are from the first printing. It was usually a minimum run of from 250 to 1,000 in a given city. They were nailed on telephone poles or displayed in head shops, and fans spread the music news. The second printing was sold during the show or to collectors afterward. Many of the first printings were destroyed by weather or by moms who tossed them out.
As a consequence, Freeburg says, a lot of those early posters are worth thousands of dollars. He won’t divulge how much he pays or the value of his collection but says, “I have a lot invested in these things, and the spike in value for ’60s posters is diagonally up from left to right.”
His collection is shelved flat in acid-free artist portfolios in a climate-controlled studio. They are labeled sequentially from their printing, and he buys duplicates of rare posters when he can.
Freeburg’s relationship with poster collecting is complicated. He denies it’s an obsession. Instead, he considers buying them as akin to investing in a mutual fund, but a tangible one. He says he won’t buy a poster without considering its financial value. Then again, he admits he has offers to sell posters but can’t part with a single one. “I am sentimental for that time period. I loved about 90 percent of those bands and I feel gifted for having their posters. I would have them all over the house, if my wife would let me,” he says. Neither Freeburg’s wife nor his 21-year-old daughter is a collector.
The posters he owns include every one produced to advertise rock’s most famous venues, which include San Francisco’s Fillmore and Winterland halls and the Avalon Ballroom; New York’s Fillmore East; and the Monterey Pop Festival.
Freeburg, who retired at 49 from careers in construction and real estate, says every major group of the ’60s visited his hometown of Memphis, and he also saw Otis Redding and all the major soul and R&B acts. But there was a downside. Freeburg attributes his increasing tinnitus to concerts and music in general.
Amy Gilman, the associate curator of modern and contemporary art at the Toledo Museum of Art, is moved by the continued impact of rock ’n’ roll concert posters on global art, design, movies and advertising. “The way we portray the 1960s is immediately recognizable when those posters are referenced,” she says. “I don’t believe that there is another single period of graphic arts that has had as much influence on popular culture as these poster artists did, other than the age of Toulouse-Lautrec and the artists of early-20th-century Paris.”
Freeburg says it’s hard to choose his favorite poster, but admits one he especially likes was created by artists Stanley Mouse and his late partner Alton Kelley. It’s their most famous—a skeleton and roses motif for a 1966 Grateful Dead concert. He’s attracted by its artful presentation of the “dichotomy of life and death.”
As for his own collecting habit, Freeburg has expanded his interests to movie posters from the 1930s to 1960. Why? “I basically have every poster that I want in the rock poster area or that I ever will be able to afford.”
Frank McCoy is a writer in Maryland.
Toledo Museum Presents The Psychedelic 60s: Posters from the Rock Era
Wes Wilson, Venue: Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA, Date: February 24–26, 1967, Performers: Grateful Dead, Otis Rush Chicago Blues Band, The Canned Heat Blues Band (BG051), Collection of Houston Freeburg. © www.wolfgangsvault.com
TOLEDO, OH.- Of all the visual art produced in the late 1960s, the most influential may be San Francisco psychedelic concert posters. Many are instantly recognizable because of their innovative use of text, psychedelic colors and coded messages. Not only do the posters visually define the period, but they also have shaped graphic design ever since.
This summer the Toledo Museum of Art is spotlighting these influential posters in a special exhibition. Some 150 posters from The Houston Freeburg Collection are being shown in The Psychedelic 60s: Posters From the Rock Era in the Museum’s Canaday Gallery from June 11 through Sept. 12.
The highly collectible posters will rock the memories of many baby boomers while introducing newer generations to American popular culture symbols from the era of acid rock, free love and war protests.
Influenced by the surrealist, art nouveau, pop and op art movements, the artists include the legendary Wes Wilson, “father” of the 1960s’ rock poster movement; giants Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelly, whose work is strongly tied to the custom car and hot rod movement; Victor Moscoso, creator of the logo for the Family Dog, a collective that sponsored some of the earliest psychedelic concerts; Bonnie MacLean, wife of Fillmore concert promoter Bill Graham; Detroit graphic designer David Singer, and Lee Conklin, who made more than 30 posters to promote acts at the Fillmore.
Of special note are 50 posters with fluorescent or phosphorescent colors that glow in the dark and represent the height of black light design. The themes often relate to the racial, sexual, political, feminist and drug issues then whirling through American society.
“Certainly there is a popular appeal to this exhibition, but there also is real art historical substance as well,” says Amy Gilman, the Museum’s associate curator of contemporary and modern art. “These artists and their work had a very profound influence on graphic design and actually all print media since that time,” she contends.
In mounting the exhibition, the Museum has taken care to replicate the atmosphere of the late sixties through sound, staging and lighting, including the use of black light when appropriate, so viewers become immersed in elements of the counter-culture the posters depict.
“There are many artists, many styles and a good range of bands,” notes Gilman. “A lot of people did Jimi Hendrix posters, and you’ll see how different people had a different take on him. The black light posters are really varied. Some have a handmade look, showing their underground roots. The exhibition presents a great window on that time period.”
The musicians who played at the Avalon Ballroom, the Fillmore East and West and other venues are recognizable, too: Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, the Byrds, Fleetwood Mac, Cream, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Joan Baez and others.
Exhibition at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art Pays Tribute to Rock and Roll Art
Wes Wilson (American, b. 1937) Grass Roots, Sons of Adam, Big Brother & The Holding Co. Avalon Ballroom, April 29-30, 1966. Silkscreen Concert poster. Collection of Houston Freeburg.
MEMPHIS.- During the sixties, the counterculture engaged in a rebellion against the norms of their parents. Nearly everything was questioned and challenged, including traditional authority, government, the Vietnam War, racial relations, and the arms race. Women’s and gay rights were championed as was the legalization of drugs. The music of the era reflected these concerns with concerts sometimes functioning as political forums as much as musical events. For example, Country Joe and The Fish condemned the war, and James Brown sang about black pride.
The posters designed to advertise these concerts became collector’s items even before the events took place. Inspired by Art Nouveau, Surrealism, Dada, Pop art, and comic books, they were an exotic blend of typography, collage elements, bright colors, and distinctive iconography. The forty examples on loan from Houston Freeburg include posters for Jimi Hendrix, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, Beatles, Grateful Dead, Otis Redding, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Who, Rolling Stones, and Buddy Miles designed by such artists as Wes Wilson, Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley, and Rick Griffin. Also included is a selection of black light posters that will be exhibited in black light. Together, the two series provide a brief look at a tumultuous period of history that continues to resonate.
Psychedelia: Rock ‘n’ Roll Posters, 1965-70 is curated by Chief Curator Marina Pacini and Preparator Richard Gamble. It is on view until August 24, 2008.
Art review: Pioneer psychedelic art flourished on posters
By Bob Mehr
Friday, June 13, 2008
Recently, in an interview about origins of psychedelic art, one of the movement's key figures, Stanley Mouse, offered a rather simple explanation about the allure of the style: "We were just having fun making posters," noted Mouse. That sense of fun is not hard to locate in Memphis Brooks Museum of Art's new exhibit "Psychedelia: Rock 'n' Roll Posters, 1965-70."
The exhibit -- on display until Aug. 28 -- includes some 40 original posters, courtesy of local collector Houston Freeburg. The 54-year-old Freeburg, a semi-retired construction/real estate business owner, began buying black-light posters as a teen, and in recent years has expanded his collection to include concert pieces.
Covering parts of two floors inside the Brooks, the exhibit is a surprisingly invigorating experience, rather than the tired, patchouli-scented nostalgia trip one might expect. That owes both to the depth of Freeburg's collection and the perspective that time has bestowed on these works (the passing years have also raised the stakes, as the posters -- most of which were handed out free originally -- are worth hundreds and thousands of dollars apiece).
There is an added, if unintended, poignancy to the exhibit, as one of its featured artists -- and one of the true giants in the history of rock art -- Alton Kelley, died earlier this month at the age of 67, from complications of osteoporosis.
Along with his partner Mouse, Kelley created some of the most iconic and lasting images in pop culture -- designing logos and album covers for the Grateful Dead, Steve Miller, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and many others. But Mouse and Kelley will forever be remembered for the genre-defining concert posters they created during the mid-to-late '60s for San Francisco venues like the Avalon Ballroom, Winterland and Fillmore.
East Coast and Midwest transplants, Mouse and Kelley met in San Francisco in 1965 -- they were part of a collective known as the Family Dog which threw some of the earliest psychedelic dance concerts, helping spark the San Francisco scene. A year later, they'd created their first signature design, a poster for a Big Brother and the Holding Company/Quicksilver Messenger Service concert that cribbed the logo of the Zig-Zag cigarette man -- a piece that's featured prominently at the Brooks exhibit.
The Zig-Zag poster was just the beginning. Within a few short years Mouse, Kelley and their contemporaries -- which included Brooks-featured artists such as Victor Moscoso, Randy Tuten, Rick Griffin and Wes Wilson -- had forged a unique artistic movement. Free from any formal burdens of art education or history, they began to draw on myriad and disparate sources for inspiration. Taking elements from art deco, art nouveau, pop art, surrealism, Dadaism, 19th-century illustrations, early American Indian photographs, even comic books, their work radically mixed collage, camp and classicism yielding their distinctive designs.
In turn, the aesthetic pioneered by the psychedelic artists has had a massive impact on every successive generation, with everything from advertising to modern art influenced by their free-thinking approach.
The Freeburg collection at the Brooks boasts a variety of strong examples: from Rick Griffin's strikingly surreal "eyeball" image promoting a Jimi Hendrix concert, to Wes Wilson's warm, type-based posters for Otis Rush and Otis Redding, to Randy Tuten's stark tabloid-style image touting a pair of early Led Zeppelin gigs (the poster also teases a Rolling Stones show the following night -- quite a weekend of entertainment, eh?).
The display of concert posters continues into the basement floor of the Brooks, then breaks off into a separate darkened room dedicated to a display of black-light posters. Black-light posters were a kind of adjunct to concert posters, more specifically an outgrowth of the '60s drug culture. Using fluorescent or phosphorescent colors to make the images glow in the dark, black-light art provided a decidedly striking visual accompaniment to any mind-expanding experience.
Black light soon became a natural medium for artists of all types from around the world. Among the pieces in the collection at Brooks are a Peter Max poster of Marilyn Monroe as a kind of love child idol; a vertigo-inducing effort called "Falling" by Israeli designers Shohar and Ron Lieberman's take on the classic counter-culture film "Easy Rider."
While the genre was often dominated by images expressing peace and love platitudes, the more interesting pieces evince a strong streak of absurdist humor, the merry pranksterism that launched the early hippie movement.
The first one that catches your eye at Brooks is an image titled "Crop Rotation Pays." Created by the Memphis-based Specialty Imports design team, the poster is a clever twist on Grant Wood's Depression-era "American Gothic." Subverting the Middle American mores of the original, here the stoic pitchfork-toting couple is transformed into marijuana farmers, with illicit greens growing around their feet.
That sort of cheekiness mutates into an even darker brand of humor in a piece by Screen Prints NY, called "The Great Society." The image turns Lyndon Johnson's reputation as a socio-economic achiever on its ear by portraying LBJ as a Mephisotlean character grinning fiendishly over a ruinous American landscape dotted by riots and racial strife.
An even darker psychological theme is at work in the uncredited "Suppose They Gave a War and No One Came." Portraying a single lonely figure -- perhaps a soldier waiting on an empty battlefield -- beneath a strange undulating sky, on one level, it's an implicit comment on man's inability to control his violent impulses and the futility of armed conflict. But look at it again, and it has a second meaning: the radiating clouds above the figure hint at the sheer madness of nuclear war -- one in which there are neither combatants nor survivors.
Perhaps the most striking among the black-light posters at Brooks is one that comes from a rather unlikely source. At first the image seems typical: a classic, colorful psychedelic swirl spitting out a variety of drug names and slang -- "acid," "bennies," "LSD," "horse," "smack" -- before forming a thought bubble posing the rather ominous question "Will They Turn On You?" The upshot, of course, is that this poster was the work of the U.S. government -- part of a late '60s anti-drug campaign spearheaded by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. It's almost shocking to realize how quickly a niche within the underground subculture was co-opted, if not infiltrated.
The lingering sense one is left with is that as important and revolutionary as these pieces are, there's innocence behind them as well. That even the most audacious images and artistic innovations were organic: born more out of a sense of naïveté and the sheer thrill of discovery, than by any calculated effort. As Stanley Mouse himself noted: "There was no time to think about what we were doing. It was a furious time, but I think most great art is created in a furious moment." The Brooks exhibit captures that moment perfectly.
'Psychedelia: Rock 'n' Roll Posters, 1965-70'
At Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Overton Park, through Aug. 28. Admission is free to all Brooks members; otherwise it is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors, $3 for youth and students. Children 6 and under are free. For more information call 544-6200.
© 2010 Scripps Newspaper Group — OnlineSpirit of the '60s
The Toledo Museum of Art celebrates the psychedelic images of changing times.
By Linda Feagler
The Association, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Grass Roots, The Sopwith Camel, Fillmore Auditorium 1966, by Wes Wilson.
Up close, the concert poster seems lighthearted enough: Pop artist Wes Wilson’s colorful advertisement for a July 1966 gig at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium, featuring the Association and the Grass Roots, is set amid a neon collage of red, orange and yellow.
But step back five paces and the good vibrations vanish: From a distance, the placidity has turned into angry tongues of flame that look hot enough to leap off the page. No mere billboard, the double-edged image also served as the artist’s adamant protest against the Vietnam War.
This arresting illustration is one of 150 works showcased at the Toledo Museum of Art through Sept. 12 in “The Psychedelic 60s: Posters from the Rock Era.” Organized by the museum, the exhibit features concert and black-light posters on loan from Houston Freeburg, a Memphis, Tennessee, collector whose passion for the symbolic relics has led to his amassing more than 1,250 of them.
“These pieces,” explains Amy Gilman, the museum’s associate curator of modern and contemporary art, “are a microcosm of their time. Yes, many were designed to advertise a specific event — but often the text and colors used are clearly more important as an emblematic image rather than a conveyor of information.”
Welcome to the 1960s. Flower-power love and pleas for peace. And the volatile tempo of those times took center stage in concert lineups from coast to coast: At The Fillmore in San Francisco, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors and the Grateful Dead were regulars, while across town, Jefferson Airplane and Canned Heat held court at the Avalon Ballroom. In New York, the Fillmore East was the place to hear the Beach Boys and The Byrds.
As the music played on and the decade played out, posters promoting the shows became as eclectic as the events themselves.
“Our impressions of what the 1960s were and what they looked like have clearly been shaped by the graphic designers’ views,” Gilman says.
Not to mention, she adds, that since many of them were schooled in art or art history, they drew inspiration from those who came before them: A master at appropriating the elegant lines of early-20th-century art nouveau, Wilson created typefaces and elaborate elements that were reminiscent of an earlier day, yet clearly complemented the music and cultural scene of his times. The artist’s 1967 rendering for a performance at the Winterland Arena in San Francisco by Moby Grape is a stellar example of that style.
And shades of painter Salvador Dali’s technique of taking imagery completely out of context during the 1930s emanates from Stanley Mouse’s 1967 poster for a Mothers of Invention concert at The Fillmore. In it, bones, the noonday sun and sunflowers embrace the surrealist technique Dali is renowned for.
It was this homage to art history that fascinated Gilman. Born at the tail end of the ’60s, she’s too young to remember the decade. But the depictions on the posters have always fascinated her.
“They’re very optimistic, but also very challenging,” she explains. “On the surface, they seem to be naïve. But they clearly depict an awareness of what’s going on in the world.”
The curator knew the images she had in mind would be at home in a museum, and set about searching for them. A colleague at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art introduced her to Freeburg. The 56-year-old retired contractor fondly remembers his first posters, purchased at age 14 while on a spring-break school trip to New York.
“The teacher who chaperoned us wasn’t much older than we were, so he pretty much turned us loose,” recalls Freeburg with a chuckle. “We stopped at the Fillmore East, and I bought a slew of Procol Harum and Jimi Hendrix posters. Our class was staying at the Waldorf Astoria. When we got back to the room, we redecorated with black light posters.”
Freeburg has spent the ensuing years scouring websites and attending music conventions, always on the lookout for collectibles. His favorite acquisition — and a focal point of the Toledo show — is “The Hendrix Experience,” a black-light poster in which the rocker’s hair is made of flowers.
“There’s something truly mesmerizing about black-light work,” he says. “With the flip of a switch, you’re in a totally different world.”
As Gilman puts the finishing touches on the exhibit, she reflects on what she hopes visitors will glean from it.
“We have a tendency to think of these years as being less complex than they were — when in fact, they were riddled with strife,” she says. “But through it all, a sense of optimism prevailed.
“And that,” the curator adds, “is something we can use today.”
For more information, call 419/255-8000 or visit toledomuseum.org.
Contact Tahree Lane at:
or 419-724-6075.Turn on to Psychedelic 60s
Museum offers new exhibit of posters from one of rock's finest hours
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.
[The Wall Street Journal]
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
JUNE 11, 2010
Cultural Events for the Week of June 11
Friday, June 11
Art That Rocks
Friday, June 11
Like so many former owners of muscle cars and action figures, 56-year-old Houston Freeburg was launched on a collecting spree by nostalgia, in his case for some psychedelic concert posters he bought in 1968. About 150 specimens from his collection (many made for viewing by black light) are on display at the Toledo Museum of Art. "The Psychedelic 60s: Posters From the Rock Era," including artist Wes Wilson's designs for the Grateful Dead and other acts, runs through Sept. 12. Admission is free.
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