Albert Field Jr. (1916 - 2003) amassed possibly the world's largest collection of playing cards, with over 6,400 decks dating as far back as the 15th century. This exhibition uses a tiny selection of Field's collection to examine how the art and design of playing cards reflect evolving social attitudes towards gender, race, education, celebrity, politics, and war. The tiny canvas of a playing card has been used to educate and spread social progress as well as to reinforce harmful racial and gender stereotypes. It is a fascinating exploration of the versatility of the medium.
One deck is an amusement. 25 decks are a problem. 6,400 decks are a scholarly resource
What You Will See
The gallery is lined with carefully selected samples of card decks, organized into eight categories of historical and social issues. The exhibit begins with the history of playing cards--highlighted by a 1597 Austrian print--as well as the differences between Italian, Spanish, German, and French (the most-familiar) styles. The exhibit then explores how playing card designers have represented gender roles, racial stereotypes, celebrity, warfare, and political discourse.
Why You Should Go
The tiny canvas of a playing card proves to be a surprisingly versatile artistic medium. From minimalist stencils to detailed lithography, from caricature to photography, the range of artistic expression is impressive. The exhibit, however, presents the cards in light of the social and political attitudes they represent: racial stereotypes contrasted with respectful anthropological representations, pin-up girls and pornographic decks alongside cards depicting women's contributions to the war effort.