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David Kunzle ¡Presente! — Poster of the Week

Brigadas Ramona Parra, Juventudes Comunistas de Chile

Poster for an exhibition at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo

Silkscreen, 1971

Santiago, Chile


David Kunzle died Monday, January 1, after a three-year struggle with Amyloidosis. CSPG’s Poster of the Week was displayed outside his office door at the UCLA Art History Department for decades. He didn’t care if the Hammer & Sickle in the center of the poster produced by the Communist Youth of Chile offended administration, faculty, or students. David was willing to put his career on the line.

David was a Renaissance Man both literally and figuratively. He was a political activist, art historian, full professor at UCLA, actor, curator, international lecturer, poster collector, writer, and gymnast-–he performed a unique baroque vaulting and tumbling act for nearly 20 years at the Los Angeles Renaissance Faire in Agoura.

Although a scholar of Baroque art he wrote many books on popular culture and revolutionary art, covering topics such as comic books, protest posters, Nicaraguan Murals, and Victorian corsetry. He translated How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic for Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattel. In 2016, he published Chesucristo: The Fusion in Image and Word of Che Guevara and Jesus Christ.

In 1965, inspired by the Viet Nam War, David began collecting posters. He was one of the earliest academics to recognize the artistic, historical, and political importance of what was generally marginalized as ephemera or agit-prop. Since 1995, David has donated approximately 20,000 posters to CSPG. He was critical for making CSPG an internationally renowned archive—with the largest collection of post-WWII protest posters in the world.

David began teaching at UC Santa Barbara in 1965, as the Viet Nam war was escalating.  In 1973, the university fired him when he refused to stop protesting the war—the parallels for what is happening in the US today are frightening.

David sued for wrongful dismissal and set a precedent when he won in 1977! Although David won his case, rather than return to UC Santa Barbara, he accepted a position at UCLA, where Carol Wells was working on her dissertation on Medieval French architecture. In 1981, David hired Carol to collect posters in Nicaragua for an exhibition he was planning. That trip began Carol's obsession with political poster collecting, and ultimately inspired the founding of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in 1988. The rest is history

David Kunzle (1936-2024)


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