Picks and Pans Review: Posters American Style

updated 04/06/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/06/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Therese Thau Heyman

Uncle Sam is back, still respectfully pointing out that he wants you. But who knew that Sam is a 1917 self-portrait by artist James Montgomery Flagg? Don't skip the captions in this fascinating, color-splashed compendium. Among the artists are Norman Rockwell, Georgia O'Keeffe and Wes Wilson, who created those psychedelically unreadable 1960s Bay Area handbills that spawned as many imitators as Jimi Hendrix.

Few contemporary museum catalogs offer images as arresting as these, which are fittingly on tour (now at the National Museum of American Art in Washington) to remind us that commercial sponsorship often spurs real creativity. There is a story of a century here too, from Flagg's recruitment poster to the anti-draft sheet of three '60s sirens declaring, "Girls say yes to boys who say no." Other entries are prints of wails, including angry cries from the Black Panthers and the United Farm Workers. More recent works trade the drumbeats for rimshots, such as the waggish photo of 50-odd slobbering pooches waiting for the National Postal Museum to open. (Abrams, $35)

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