Not all collectable art exhibition posters are for shows by one artist. Pictured here is an early Art Nouveau era poster for an exhibition of Dutch art that took place in Krefeld in Germany in 1903 at the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum. The poster is a design by the Dutch artist Johan Thorn-Prikker (1868-1932) and combines the organic elements of Art Nouveau with fragmented lines of the soon to appear German Expressionist movement. A second printing edition by S Lankhout in Haag (The Hague) and measuring just under 4ft x 2ft 10in (1.2m x 86cm), it hammered down for $1600 (£1270) in the March 3 auction held by Poster Auctions International in New York.

Image: Poster Auctions International, Inc

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An established, longstanding market for vintage posters exists and some well-defined categories for collectors such as travel and ski designs, the rarest of which can make very substantial amounts.

But another class with very obvious wall power is the art exhibition poster. These are the posters designed and printed to promote art shows held at museums and galleries at the stated date of the show (not modern copies or licensed reproductions).

If your budget can’t run to an original painting or print these can be a different and more affordable route to getting an example of an artist’s work onto your walls.

And in poster collecting terms this is still generally a relatively undervalued field compared to those promoting travel, skiing or particular commercial products.


This rare early 1922 poster for a Dadaist art exhibition featured in a February 29 poster sale at US saleroom Swann Auction Galleries where it sold for a hammer price of $8000 (£6350). Late in 1922, Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) and Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931) planned a small tour around the Netherlands with a travelling Dada show in order to introduce local artists to their work. This 11¾in (30cm) square poster for a Kleine Dada Soirée has the event programme and Dada slogans presented in disorder, using different hand-drawn typography and varying font sizes. In all, 17 separate performances were held in eight different locations. The first event took place at the Haagsche Kunstkring in The Hague and the address of the venue (Haagsche K.K. Binnenhof 8) is in the upper right-hand corner.

As in every class of collectable there is a big variation in price between the very top and the lower end. Broadly speaking, the lower level generally features posters for more recent shows.

At the other end there are some very early and rare historic posters like Gustav Klimt’s poster for the first Vienna Secessionist exhibition in 1898. These are as much an historic document as a decorative piece and have cross-collecting appeal.

In between are a whole gamut of different types of exhibition poster whose appeal and value is determined by a variety of factors: the artist featured; who designed the poster; the importance of the exhibition and the print run, to name just some.

As many exhibition posters simply feature an example of the artist’s work, a poster that was actually designed by the artist will attract a premium. They are more of a one-off and can be among the most eagerly sought by today’s collectors.

David Hockney, Pablo Picasso and Roy Lichtenstein are among the big names who designed posters for their own shows.


This 15½ x 23in (39 x 58.5cm) poster for the Belgian artist James Ensor’s (1860-1949) solo exhibition of his work at the Salon des Cent in Paris in 1898 featured in Poster Auctions International’s July 2022 sale where it was bid to $14,000 (£11,865). Ensor is pictured here surrounded by demonic figures.

Image: Poster Auctions International, Inc

As David Bownes of Twentieth Century Posters in Islington, who has written a blog on art exhibition posters, explains: “When you then consider that these posters were printed by the artist’s preferred fine art printer (eg Mourlot in the case of Picasso) and often in short runs, they could be considered as important as editioned prints. In fact, they are often much rarer.”

And if a poster has been signed by the artist that, too, will boost the price for collectors.

Artist pecking order

Aside from unique designs, there can also be something of a pecking order in artist popularity. Picasso, Hockney and pop artists Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol are among those at top end.

The significance of the exhibition is also important: a ground-breaking group show that put an art movement on the map has direct connections to a dynamic period in art history. In such cases the artist can be less important than the exhibition.

A poster designed by an artist for one of their contemporary shows will be more desirable than a poster for a posthumous show or one promoting an exhibition covering art of previous centuries. And a poster from a contemporary show, adds Bownes, can also capture some of the buzz of the time.

He makes a further point: “It’s often more desirable for the poster to be from the artist’s home country. A Paris gallery poster for Leger, for example, feels more desirable than a similar poster for a touring exhibition in Sheffield.”

Other factors - age and edition size - can be linked. Generally, the earlier the poster the fewer are likely to have survived, but print runs were not always large in the first place so many original exhibition posters are quite ephemeral, even from relatively recent times.


Another early poster for a group show held at the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum in Krefeld Germany is this example for the Farbe (Colour) exhibition in May 1928. It featured work by some of the leading contemporary and avant garde artists of the period to support the applied arts and promote the innovative Modernist design of the textile industry headquartered there at the time. The 2ft 6in x 3ft 3in (76.5cm x 1m) poster was by painter and graphic designer Heinrich Campendonk (1898-1957), printed in black and white with a hand-coloured rainbow. It is priced at £5500 by AntikBar.

For example, Kandinsky posters are rare, notes poster specialist Kirill Kalinin of AntikBar in west London. When the artist was starting out and not famous, posters were an additional expense for a gallery, so were not produced in large numbers.

As an affordable way to collect an artist’s work, exhibition posters clearly have advantages.

Kalinin feels that in general they are becoming more popular as they are quite decorative. “Exhibition posters are on the crossroads between a poster and the artist,” he says and points out that, unlike posters promoting travel or an object, there is a limiting factor once you reach a certain price level. “If you like Chagall but you don’t have the funds, you will buy the poster but if you have the funds you will buy a print or a painting.”


In 1963, to mark the 50th anniversary of the International Exhibition of Modern Art, (The Armory Show 1913), the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute in Utica, New York, reunited 300 of the works that were in the original show. Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) was not only on the loans committee for the event and spoke there, but also designed the poster, which features an image of his once infamous painting Nude Descending a Staircase. This example of the 1963 poster published to benefit the Henry Street Settlement, with two printed signatures, measuring 3ft 8in x 2ft 2¾in (1.1m x 68cm) featured in a poster sale held by Swann Auction Galleries in February 2024 where it proved very popular. It sold for a multiple-estimate price of $3400 (£2700).

Attractive option

Personal taste will, of course, play a part when making a purchase but with entry level prices for original art exhibition posters being very reasonable this a field that offers plenty of opportunities in addition to being an attractive route into poster collecting generally.

“The exhibition posters that I sell tend to date from the 1950s to the early 2000s” says Bownes.

“Most of my customers are looking for interesting, uncommon and attractive wall art. Exhibition posters are ideal for this and allow you to reflect your own tastes and enthusiasm.”

Starting out

What categories of art exhibition poster would make a good starting point? Two poster specialists give their recommendations for the entry level collector looking to buy.

David Bownes of Twentieth Century Posters in London

Buy what you like rather than for investment (always a good maxim), but I’d recommend posters for art shows by exciting young artists (which can be acquired at the shows themselves, often for less than £20). And if your budget is a little healthier, go for recent exhibition posters by the likes of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin etc. They are still absurdly cheap (£200-400) and will be regarded as culturally significant moments in British art history.


Bownes has this original 1997 poster for Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection at the Royal Academy of Arts, an example of a recent original poster for a significant art exhibition, a group show featuring many works by the YBAs. Designed by the design studio Why Not Associates and published by the Royal Academy, the double crown size 2ft 6in x 20in (76 x 51cm) poster is priced at £220 from Twentieth Century Posters.

Jessica Adams, editorial director at Poster Auctions International, New York

I think it’s important that a new buyer learns about the history of the poster, the stylistic developments and the cultural impact of these images. Then I’d suggest exploring topics, styles, or countries of interest and begin to narrow down to a focused direction. Once you know that you love, say, Swiss Minimalism, it’s much easier to delve into that world, explore, and start collecting. It’s also helpful to keep tabs on auctions around the world, where you might be able to find a great deal to start your collection.


As an example of a poster that would make a good starting out purchase, Jessica Adams has selected this poster by Kazumasa Nagai promoting an exhibition of modern Japanese posters at the Zurich Museum of Design in 2006. It sold for $400 (then around £350) at Poster Auctions International in 2017.

Image: Poster Auctions International, Inc