Critics’ Picks

Leonardo, Predator, 1993, oil on canvas, 81 x 55".

Leonardo, Predator, 1993, oil on canvas, 81 x 55".

New York

“Baptized by Beefcake: The Golden Age of Hand-Painted Movie Posters from Ghana”

Poster House
119 W. 23rd Street
October 17, 2019–January 5, 2020

In the thick of Ghana’s economic unrest during the 1980s and ’90s, illicit screenings toured the country, powered by black-market videotapes and VCRs hooked up to gas-run generators. To advertise these events, local artists were commissioned to paint posters for each film. The brilliantly titled exhibition here, “Baptized by Beefcake,” includes forty such works, made by twenty-two Ghanaian artists. Often as big as six feet tall, and predominately created for action and monster movies, these exquisite paintings typically allude to the tapes’ cover art, though they diverge substantially, valuing a film’s particular je ne sais quoi over an accurate rendering of a scene from it.

In a 1993 advert for Predator (1987), the titular alien is holding a nude, bodacious babe—a moment that appears nowhere in the film. Also, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mammoth gun has been replaced with a long knife—one wildly lethal phallic symbol swapped out for another. Schwarzenegger is a reoccurring figure throughout “Beefcake,” and possibly my favorite (though barely recognizable) iteration of him is painted on a flour sack: He’s posing beside the words “Terminator 2,” wherein the “o” of the title is, inexplicably, a heart. The right half of the poster for 1977’s The Spy Who Love [sicMe features a giant red fish—still visible beneath the word “Me” is a pentimento “You” that’s been painted over. Another ad for a sci-fi flick shows a femme fatale about to be swallowed up by a four-foot-wide tick, while one for Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Kickboxer (1989) features the watermelon-size pectorals and minuscule head of “the muscles from Brussels” as he floats before a rainbow color field.

There is no shortage of highlights here: The paintings are fun, deeply strange, and utterly alive. The artists who give these Tinseltown deities the fun-house treatmentcontorting these absurdist figures forged by Hollywood to sate our hunger for good versus evil—do so in ways that make perfect sense.