A rogue’s gallery of presidential satire served up at popular L.A. marketplace
Images courtesy of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics

LOS ANGELES — Here we are mid-2024 and nothing is more welcome in this tense election year than a bit of humor and irreverence. Center for the Study of Political Graphics’ exhibition Presidential Rogues Gallery: Satirical Posters from the 1950s to the Present serves that up well, and you can view it now at Mercado La Paloma in Los Angeles or from the comfort of your own home on Mercado’s website. We recommend viewing the exhibition in person so you can also enjoy the site itself, the people watching, the superb food, and the outdoor entertainment at Mercado—but more of that later.

The exhibition is deployed over several distinct viewing areas, so you may be looking at Vietnam War-era posters over the heads of local diners enjoying their Oaxacan mole chicken or carne asada with black beans and rice. It’s definitely bringing art to the people, not expecting people to enter some unfamiliar, faraway gallery space. (The posters are beautifully faithful reproductions, so as not to put the originals in danger.)

Although the subject matter of the Presidential Rogues Gallery is related to the executive branch, the posters in the exhibition are not your typical electioneering appeals. These are posters that exercise our First Amendment rights; protesting war, critiquing social policy, and calling out executive hypocrisy. The posters originate from the 1950s to the present and target both Republican and Democratic leaders. Given access to CSPG’s 90,000 poster collection, they are the pick of the crop and well worth viewing.

Posters are inherently short on text, relying mostly on visual language to get their point across. In making use of the symbols, slogans, and memes of their time they are also strong reminders of their era. The exhibition is a quick history lesson in people’s fight for social justice and peace, evoking a whiff of nostalgia for those old enough to remember. Some of my favorite posters mimic movie advertising, making use of the themes and emotions created by the movie’s marketing team. Several others parody the “Uncle Sam Wants You” recruitment posters from 1917 that have become a permanent part of our visual language.

Eric Gordon / People’s World

Although succinct in style, successful posters also pack an emotional punch. Our feelings of injustice are validated, triggering both sadness and anger. With the additional use of satire, these political posters become a powerful call to action. As CSPG points out in their accompanying text, “If you can laugh at someone, you can also challenge them.” And what better time for a call to action!

Thematically the curators have divided the exhibition into several subgroupings, such as war, environment, healthcare, and human rights. No one is immune, from Eisenhower in the 1950s all the way up to Biden in the present. Knowing full well it’s a show that celebrates the First Amendment, still, a viewer cringes at the inclusion of some images. One of Obama sporting a Hitler mustache was issued by the Lyndon LaRouche crowd: A viewer must interrogate not just the object of the satire but the objective of the satirist as well. One also has to wonder if it’s especially helpful right now to display an image of “Genocide Joe”: The point is made (and taken), but there’s a life-or-death election just five months away! Critical thinking is made of slicing and dicing such contradictory reactions, and no two viewers will come away with exactly the same responses.

Presidential Rogues Gallery: Satirical Posters from the 1950s to the Present is on view through July 7 at Mercado La Paloma, 3655 S. Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90007. Mercado La Paloma is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Mercado La Paloma, a vibrant community center located in the Figueroa Corridor of South Los Angeles, was created by Esperanza Community Housing Corporation. The Mercado houses over half a dozen restaurants (and growing) including the Michelin award-winning Holbox and several gift shops. Holbox is one of the more financially accessible Michelin restaurants, but don’t miss the other praiseworthy eateries. The Mercado also hosts art exhibitions, performances, and other community programming that represents the unique heritage of the area’s residents. Ample parking is available. Find La Paloma’s calendar here.

The day we visited La Paloma we ate dessert outside while viewing a free classical Indian dance concert featuring the expressive dancer Vijayalakshmi, with music by Yuval Ron on oud, Paul Livingstone on sitar, and Jamie Papish on percussion. There are several upcoming programs featuring these same musicians playing Persian and Turkish music. Find out about them here.

The Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG) is an educational and research archive that collects, preserves, documents, and exhibits posters relating to historical and contemporary movements for social change. Using its tens of thousands of human rights and protest posters and prints, CSPG creates traveling and online thematic exhibitions, and publications. CSPG has been advancing the power of art to educate and inspire people to action for over 35 years.


Lori A. Zimmerman
Lori A. Zimmerman

Lori A. Zimmerman is a Los Angeles-based fiber artist and retired nonprofit administrator who was always delighted to land a job in theater.