'Pharma' graphic design exhibition, New York

The promotional booklets that struck a chord
The promotional booklets that struck a chord with curator Alexander Tochilovsky, designed for Sharp & Dohme by Alexander Ross in the 1940s
(Image credit: press)

Pharmaceutical companies spent big bucks on advertising in the mid-20th century to flog their latest 'miracle' drug to the medical industry and consumers, drafting in an impressive roster of graphic design luminaries, such as Herb Lubalin (opens in new tab), Andy Warhol (opens in new tab) and Lester Beall (opens in new tab). Now New York's Cooper Union (opens in new tab) is casting fresh light on this advertising heyday with an exhibition entitled 'Pharma' at the Herb Lubalin Study Center (opens in new tab). Spanning the 1940s to the 1960s, it brings together rare works and examines the lasting impact that graphic design had on the industry.

The seed for the show was planted when curator Alexander Tochilovsky struck upon a few remarkable pieces in the Herb Lubalin archive but couldn't determine the designer. Eventually he discovered the genius in question was Alexander Ross. The designer's punchy promotional material for Sharp & Dohme in the 1940s - featuring clever plays with outlines and negative spaces - triggered Tochilovsky to re-examine graphic design in the medical realm.

Using material from the Herb Lubalin archive, as well as pieces borrowed from the designer's families and Milton Glaser's archives, the exhibition focuses on the period when medicines like penicillin were first developed, fuelling the market for pharmaceutical advertising. Advertising agencies suddenly became more daring as this exhibition bears testament.

Advertisement for a series of Upjohn drugs, art directed by Rudy Wolff

Advertisement for a series of Upjohn drugs, art directed by Rudy Wolff and illustrated by Andy Warhol, 1950s

(Image credit: Andy Warhol)

Advertisement for Geigy

Advertisement for Geigy, c. 1954-55

(Image credit: Graphic Design Collection)

Mailer for Geigy

Mailer for Geigy designed by Max Schmid, 1951

(Image credit: Graphic Design Collection)

Advertisement for Geigy

Advertisement for Geigy, c. 1958

(Image credit: Graphic Design Collection)

Advertising cards for Geigy

Advertising cards for Geigy. Left and middle cards, circa 1958. Right card designed by Roland Aeschlimann, circa 1964

(Image credit: Graphic Design Collection)

Advertisement for Dompe

Advertisement for Dompe by Franco Grignani, 1955

(Image credit: Graphic Design Collection)

Advertisement for Dompe by Franco Grignani

Advertisement for Dompe by Franco Grignani, 1954

(Image credit: Graphic Design Collection)

Advertisement designed for Wm. S. Merrell Company

Advertisement designed for Wm. S. Merrell Company by Herb Lubalin, 1954

(Image credit: Carl Fischer)

Pharma exhibition: penicillin advertisement in Scope Magazine

’Pharma’ exhibition: penicillin advertisement in Scope Magazine,1949

(Image credit: Lester Beall)

Advertisement for Roche by Aldo Calabresi for Studio Boggeri

Advertisement for Roche by Aldo Calabresi for Studio Boggeri, 1959

(Image credit: Sergio Libis)

Promotional mailer for Ciba

Promotional mailer for Ciba,1950s

(Image credit: Jerome Snyde)

ADDRESS

41 Cooper Square, New York, NY 10003

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