Skip to main content
white outer border, thin black inner border, blue ground with central image of skeleton wearing crown of red and purple roses, holding a wreath of red and white roses and picking roses from a bush of red, purple and white roses, logo of indian in top hat smoking, surrounded by FAMILY DOG PRESENTS on either side of image with SEPT / 16 below left logo and SEPT 17 below lower right logo, banner overhead with GRATEFUL DEAD, banner below image with OXFORD CIRCLE and text on blue below SUTTER AT VAN NESS S. F. /
Grateful Dead, Kelley, Alton; Mouse, Stanley; The Bindweed Press, San Francisco, California (printer); Family Dog Productions, San Francisco, California (publisher)

American, 1966, SC 2011.38.35

What Belongs in a Museum?

April 22, 2022

Meredith Diamond '23 is a computer science major and Cunningham Center Assistant. Join her as she talks about a surprising series in the SCMA Collection.

What belongs in a museum? I have been adding more and more to the list as I work in the Cunningham Center. Although I love photography and occasionally consider myself an artist, I am primarily a Computer Science major. This year I have been introduced to how vast the art world is. My first day working at the Cunningham Center I pulled Goya prints and framed 19th century Japanese photographs. I have been given the opportunity to see drawings from famous artists such as Matisse and Degas. Our photographs by Roy De Carava leave me breathless. But there is one collection that intrigues me more than most.

"black and white stylized peacocks atop bright orange and blue lettering; PRESENTED IN SAN FRANCISCO BY BILL GRAHAM / BYRDS / BYRDS / BYRDS / MOBY GRAPE / ANDREW STAPLED / Friday & Saturday $3 / MARCH 31 April 1ST / WINTERLAND / & Sunday 7PM $2 / April 2ND / FILLMORE /AUDITORIUM / TICKETS SAN FRANCISCO: City Lights Bookstore; S.F. State College (Hut T-1); Thè Town Squire (1318 Polk); Kelley Galleries (3681 Sacramento); Wild Colors (1418 Height); Belly Lo (Union Square); BERKELEY: Campus Records; Discount Records; Shakespeare & Co.; SAN MATEO; Town & Country Records; REDWOOD CITY: Redwood House of Music; SAN RAFAEL: Sherman Clay; SAUSALITO: The Tides Bookstore"
Byrds, Byrds, Byrds, Wilson, Wes; West Coast Lithograph Company, San Francisco, California, 1967, SC 2011.38.3

The SCMA has a surprisingly large collection of psychedelic posters. As a huge music lover, I was immediately drawn to these works. The Grateful Dead, The Doors, The Byrds, the list goes on and on. The posters call out to you from across the room due to their aggressively bright colors. With text that floats over your vision, the viewer must take time to fully absorb the art in front of them.

My introduction to psychedelic art was the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine movie filled with abstract characters and constantly shifting surroundings. The memories of Blue Meanies lay dormant until the day I literally opened a box of psychedelic history. Suddenly, I was transported to “Eleanor Rigby.”  We have posters designed by some of the more famous designers like Wes Wilson or Victor Moscoso and some by lesser known artists such as John Thompson. The longer I looked, the more bands I recognized and more songs played through my mind.

"red base, black background, vase in blue and purple holding green and pink leaves and flowers with words in petals: BLUE CHEER OCT 6,7,8...,LEE MICHAELS/ NORTH AMERICAN IRIS/ CLIFTON CHENIER/ AVALON BALLROOM/ SAN FRANCISCO/ SUTTER/ VAN NESS/ logo in green at upper left with smoking indian in top had at FAMILY DOG PRESENTS around it"
Blue Cheer, Moscoso, Victor; American, 1967, SC 2011.38.67

Eventually, I drifted between posters as a playlist of the bands they advertise filled the empty room. I wish I could have seen these posters hanging on bulletin boards and lampposts. However, I am incredibly grateful that they could be preserved in this setting. They serve as a reminder that museums are not exclusive to classical art. Art is not defined to one category, medium, or concept. 

Sometimes as I work in storage looking through boxes of prints from the 18th century, I listen to the Grateful Dead and Chuck Berry. I like to be reminded of how vast our collection is. On rainy spring days, I can easily brighten my day with the rainbows in these posters. Blue Cheer always enthralls me with its hidden details and flowering text.


Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.