UW-Stout to Host Exhibit from the National Academy of Sciences
An Iconography of Contagion: An Exhibition of 20th - Century Health Posters from the collection of the National Library of Medicine: Mike Sappol, curator
This exhibition is sponsored by the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences. Additional support is provided by the Presidents’ Circle Communications Initiative of the National Academies.
“An Iconography of Contagion: An Exhibition of 20th-Century Health Posters,” an exhibit organized by the National Academy of Sciences in collaboration with the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health will be on display in the Furlong Gallery at the University of Wisconsin-Stout from Feb. 17 to April 1. The gallery is open 10-6 weekdays and 12-4 on Saturdays or by appointment. The exhibit is free and open to the public.
This exhibition features more than 20 health posters from the 1920s to the 1990s. Covering infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, gonorrhea, and syphilis, the posters come from North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.
These posters provide insight into the interplay between the public’s understanding of disease and society’s values. They reflect the fears and concerns of the time and also the medical knowledge that was available. Considered an art form, many are beautiful and entertaining, but during their heyday, they sought to educate people on matters of life and death.
Public health took a visual turn about 100 years ago. In an era of devastating epidemic and endemic infectious disease, health professionals began to organize coordinated campaigns that sought to mobilize public and government action through eye-catching posters, pamphlets, and motion pictures. Impressed by the images of mass media that increasingly saturated the world around them, health campaigners were inspired to present new figures of contagion, and recycled old ones, using modernist aesthetics, graphic manipulations, humor, and visual strategies like dramatic lighting, painterly abstraction, and distortions of perspective. They devised a new iconography of contagion that emphasized visual legibility and striking visual appeal.
The Furlong Gallery will host an opening reception from 5:30-7:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 17. The exhibit’s curator, Dr. Michael Sappol, a medical historian with the National Library of Medicine, will be on campus to deliver a public lecture on Thursday, March 31 at 5:30 p.m. in the Applied Arts building; a reception will follow in the gallery. Both events are free and open to the public.
Additional support for the display of the exhibit at UW-Stout was generously provided by the Red Cedar Medical Center.
A PDF version of the exhibition catalog is available at: