Seeing the ads in person, I was amazed to find that the majority of pieces were between four to six feel tall! The word “poster” really doesn’t really even do them justice. They’re more like small murals. If anything, they were probably the historical equivalent of today’s billboards, except placed on the sides of buildings instead of alongside highways.
Apparently these fake thefts were successful in making the ads seem valuable to the public. Gallery owners started paying artists for extra copies of ads to display in their shops, and collectors paid for personal prints as well. By framing (no pun intended) the prints as art rather than ads, the artists got an extra buck and the products advertised in the prints got extra exposure.
There were also some who detested the ads from the very beginning and went out of their way to trash them. They believed the posters could be either art or ads, but not both, and they resented the artists for trying to blur the lines between the two. Even back then there was a stigma against advertising.
Seeing these early ads presented in an art museum as “fine art” got me wondering about how people will perceive today’s advertisements 30-40 years from now. Even ads from the 50’s and 60’s tend to be regarded as artistic to an extent (although we certainly don’t hold them in as high esteem as the French posters), and some people even create art meant to resemble old-fashioned ads because the style is so popular.
Perhaps the reason people are able to appreciate ads of the past is because time takes away the commercial stigma, allowing the artistic qualities of the ad to be seen without an anti-ad bias. Instead of thinking “get this ad out of my face,” people start to view the ad with a sort of nostalgia, as a relic of a certain time period.
I hope that this is how the ads of today will be perceived in the future, but even more I want people to look at them this way today. I think to really have an impact, advertisers should take a tip from the artists of the Belle Époque, and consciously strive to create contemporary art with their ads. It may be difficult to do so, but the payoff would enormous if they pulled it off.