Hand Signals: Digits, Fists, and Talons
Hands—a part of the human body through which we communicate, sense, measure, and interact with the material world—are explored in this selection of 20th-century posters and graphic ephemera drawn from the Museum’s collection. Individual identities are mapped on the palm of every hand; a digit is a unit of linear measurement derived from the breadth of a finger; metaphorically speaking, we “grasp” a philosophical truth, “manipulate” emotions, or “handle” a situation. Designers have focused on such expressive possibilities to represent a gamut of emotions and identities, and to signify collective action, collaboration, or conflict. Ranging from an armored gauntlet in a First World War poster by Lucian Bernhard to glistening talons advertising Japanese nail polish in the 1980s, the disembodied hands in this exhibition salute, menace, manipulate, and caress. Other posters of the interwar period infuse images of progress with a sense of human agency by incorporating hands that wield tools in the service of constructing a new society.