It turns out that somewhere along the line, my Madonna collection became a Madonna archive. The difference is that you could save a chunk of the former in a fire, but you'd be too overwhelmed to so much as try to save any part of the latter in that same fire.
I spent some time recently cleaning out some storage space filled with part of that archive, which is to say I spent three days rummaging around, editing, condensing and cataloguing. Within this space are all my poster tubes. Seems I have something like 350 rolled posters, and over 300 of them are of Madonna. (A zillion more unrolled.)
There's something odd about having a collection of posters that one never hangs; it's a bit like having a porn collection to which one never masturbates. (I have something approaching that, too.) I used to display a lot of my posters—I covered my walls, door and ceiling of my room when I was a kid and came close to doing the same through college.
I can't say why for sure, but I've loved posters for almost 30 years. As a teenager, it was probably a very cheap way to change who I was on the outside—plop down a few dollars and put this new image of how you see yourself, or a part of yourself, up on the wall. That way, you can see it and anyone close enough to you to be invited into your room can see it, and yet you don't have to dress up like the people in the flat images and risk being laughed at on the school bus.
They didn't call them "personality posters" for nothin'.
Once I got seriously into Madonna collecting, I had a special passion for three things—magazines, promotional items and posters. And in fact, posters could sometimes be all three of those things—torn from magazines, promoting magazines (pictured—from 1993) or promoting other things. To this day, I will drop everything (including my fiscal inhibitions) if a dazzling poster shows up on eBay, the only different between now and the '80s or '90s being that once the poster arrives, it's usually insta-stored—sometimes without ever being freed from its mailing tube.
During my recent excavation, I made it my goal to unroll all the posters, examine them and document what I have. I then packed them back in together much more tightly, in the process freeing up mountains of space. I also wound up discovering quite a few doubles! I used to be great at instinctively knowing if I had ever seen or purchased any given Madonna item; I lost that ability when keeping up with Madonna's output became a challenge even for Google. Now, I only remember certain items, invariably the oldest.
Here, in some particular order, are a few of the posters that mean the most to me or that represent the various types of posters most likely to look like irresistible wallbait to my jaded eye...
The very first Madonna poster I ever bought was the rather hideous Desperately Seeking Susan number above, left. I bought it because I was falling for her—I hadn't even seen the movie!—in 1985. The pose couldn't be less flattering; the position of that jacket could've been hiding a pregnancy if she were a real-life mom-to-be actress starring on a sitcom but playing a character who shouldn't be knocked up. Her eyes weren't touched up and her hair looks matted. But I loved it.
The very second Madonna poster I ever bought was the mind-blowingly stunning "lavender backdrop" item above, right. I found it in an amazingly cool store during a family trip to Hawaii. It was the first time I'd ever seen a store that exclusively sold kitschy pop-culture stuff. By the time I returned to Michigan, they'd popped up all over, including one behind Genesee Valley Mall, where I would get 90% of my countless Marilyn Monroe posters.
I never found this official Desperately Seeking Susan commercial poster until many years after its manufacture in '85, but it's far superior to my first buy. Sure, the image is blurry, but we didn't notice stuff like that or like awkward silhouetting then. Even better, check out this official personality poster from the movie that was only sold in Canada:
Going back to "firsts," I absolutely love these rare in-store promos meant to plug Madonna's first album:
The one on the left is suspiciously sparse on text, but the one on the right is clearly an official promo poster, and exceedingly rare. Not as rare as this little cutie:
I've only ever seen this one:
...one time, and I bought it! It's a 1984 promo for her first album that's the size of a UK subway poster and has wear to indicate it's original to the period. I'm curious as to why a presumably British poster would call it just Madonna or The Album as it was originally called The First Album overseas. But it's real, and real beautiful.
Two of the earliest personality posters I've ever seen of Madonna seem to come from abroad (Australia in one case) and show her performing live. Both are from 1984, one by Peaches and one simply stating "RO169 Madonna" by way of an ID.
I missed The Virgin Tour (1985)—the only Madonna show I ever missed!—but later tracked down these exquisite, oversized posters sold only on that tour. They're hard as hell to find now. Maybe they're still tacked up to everyone's walls.
Madonna's dreadful film debut—though she probably shoulda quit while she was behind—in A Certain Sacrifice did nothing for me when it was released after she'd become a household name. But I remember doing a major double-take when I spotted the above commercially-sold poster for the film at a Walgreen's while on a class trip to Chicago around 1987. It's strangely colorized and a fairly unique image; I'm a sucker for oddball official stuff and Stephen Jon Lewicki—the lucky-as-hell, charmingly talentless filmmaker whose Cine Cine put this one out—must've struck it rich licensing stuff like this in light of Madonna's unlikely rise to fame. At least I hope he did. Why not? Good for him for winning the lottery.
Speaking of oddball effects and that early abortion of a movie, I specialize in collecting artistic renditions of Madonna. Above, check out a cool Italian movie poster for VisionQuest (aka Crazy for You aka Pazzo Per Te); a Polish Desperately Seeking Susan one-sheet; and a ridiculously cheesy A Certain Sacrifice slick for the vid release that makes Madonna look more like Medusa. (All '85.)
Probably my favorite Madonna illustrations were the glammy, Patrick Nagelesque works that were commercialized officially via Boy Toy by Verkerke in Holland. The image on this 1986 poster (modeled on a 1985 Ken Regan photograph) was also used on a great set of school bags that I found.
My all-time favorite Madonna poster is this large banner on heavy stock that was used to promote her tour merch during the Who's That Girl Tour in '87. After the show, I bought literally one of everything, then begged the salesman to sell me that banner for around $40. He told me another girl had already offered him more and he'd had to say no because they would use them at every stop. But I persisted and pointed out the crazy amount I'd already bought. He relented and I've cherished—CHERISHED—it ever since.
I think the first time I became aware of Madonna's promo tapestries for Mitsubishi from Japan was via an article in the unofficial Canadian fanzine MLC. I coveted them, but as loose as I could be with my wallet, I couldn't afford $100 or however much they cost. I saw some in person at the first Madonna fan convention in Detroit, but still I was unable to obtain any. Over the years, I've snatched up three from what appears to be a series of eight; I assume this because the three I have are numbered as "no 2, no 5 and no 8." They're absolutely spectacular and I'd be surprised to be able to buy any for less than $500 or even more; they don't come up often.
Almost as special are the three oversized in-store posters I've tracked down from the same '87 Mitsubishi campaign. Heavy stock, metallic touches, (in some cases) unique photos, superior color reproduction—the Japanese were the gods of Madonna memorabilia back in the day. Even simple magazines from Japan still hold a singular fascination for me, both for their cooler-than-thou design and their often never-seen-anywhere-else images.
Probably the rarest Madonna poster I own, along with the WTG merch banner, is one that was removed from a wall in Japan in 1989 by a visitor who sold it to me almost 20 years later. What makes it rare is it's an official Pepsi promotional poster, and as Madonna fans know, she and Pepsi went through a messy divorce almost immediately after they'd announced their marketing marriage. I've only seen this poster one time. It's not in mint condition, but who is?
As I mentioned, I love promotional posters for magazines. My penpal Mauro used to trade me whichever ones he could tear off of walls in Italy in exchange for stacks of U.S.-only magazines I'd pick up around Chicago. My favorite one he ever sent me is a banner-sized poster for King Moda from June 1987, which also happens to be one of Madonna's best magazine covers. (I bought the magazine at my college bookstore months after it should've gone off sale, spending $15 I Did. Not. Have.)
Above, I also fell for Mauro's dutifully stolen promo posters for Italian Vogue (1991) and Italian Vanity Fair (1990)—two more of her best mag covers, two of my favorite promo posters. There's no denying that Madonna's topless pose on German Max (1991) also has its good points (!), though this particular poster was actually a foreign (UK, I believe) commercial poster as opposed to one actually used for advertising.
Madonna is one of the most reviled actresses to ever appear on the big screen (interestingly, another panned thespian, Sofia Coppola, appeared with her in her "Deeper and Deeper" video). She was godawful in a number of major and minor films, and the terrorism criticism is probably reflective of the fact that very few actors get as many chances as Madonna got without being shut down. Still, she has real acting talent under certain circumstances. For one thing, it's essential that Madonna not have much control over any film in which she's appearing—otherwise, she's likely to bring the expressivity of a cigar-store Indian.
But enough of that: One of the films in which Madonna is beautiful, charming, natural and funny—plus, she sings!—is 1989's Bloodhounds of Broadway. I trekked to Chicago's Music Box Theatre that year to see it (I think it played one night only) and fell for this modest film's quaint sweetness. Tragically, its director—Howard Brookner—died of AIDS before the film's release, even, I believe, before its final edit. After the film ended, I implored a worker to sell me the poster for $20. He hesitated but was won over by my passion. I remember he had what I took to be signs of Kaposi's Sarcoma (I could have been in a terrified bubble on this point) and in my mind I likened it to the fate of the director and wondered if people would be able to make movies about the '80s as innocent as this film about the '20s—probably so, since plenty of misery befell residents of that earlier time period, too, and yet Mr. Brookner had optimistically crafted a delicious, frothy valentine.
The poster for the video release of Bloodhounds 86ed the arty Art Deco/Cubism and went with stahhhs. Man, I sure wish Madonna and Jennifer Grey (and Sandra Bernhard) were still bazoom buddies.
If "bareback" automatically referred to the "Express Yourself" still shown in the first part of this post, "one-eye" always meant the above "Express Yourself" still, which became a hugely successful commercial poster for Madonna in 1990—as well as the main image used to promote The Blond Ambition Tour.
But as I said, I love unique images—and so I love great posters featuring Madonna's brunette ambition. The above poster—commercialized in Holland by Verkerke in 1989—was from her official calendar shoot and is one of the best "brown Madonnas" around.
Later brunette images that captured my attention: I hated the ugly-ass illustrations used to promote A League of Their Own in the U.S. (Madonna looked like a gila monster), but the one used in France was not only stunning, it was placed above matching likenesses of bona fide movie stars Geena Davis and Tom Hanks! Ah, yes—pre-Sex 1992 was a very good year! And while the cover of American Life was both cold and unimaginative (too literal), I loved the above-right image, in this case from a Thai promo poster (2003); who says a revolutionary can't be a fetching minx?
Two of the rarest teaser posters for Madonna projects—actually, probably the two rarest—were both items I discovered in Chicago at the height of my obsession. Above left, I spotted this ridiculously suggestive Dick Tracy advance poster at a movie theater in 1990 and immediately arranged to buy one. It's offered for far too much on eBay these days, even if it is worth more than one might think. Another candidate for my Top 5 favorite posters has to be "She Does It This May." from 1991, which heralded the coming of Truth or Dare. It's just such a strong image, one never used anywhere else. I found a shop selling off a few copies they'd scored of this and I believe my then-roommate grabbed one, too, for the unheard-of price of $40. It was worth it!
One of the most hilariously obnoxious promo posters is this giant beast, which was hung in school cafeterias and sponsored by Mountain Dew. How very dare they use Madonna's name as being synonymous with the "Hype?" Most insultingly, the poster asks, "Were you taken in?" I've always wondered if Madonna's management or Liz Rosenberg had anything to say to Mountain Dew about this now-impossibly-rare and rather combative item.
Did someone say "hype?" Madonna's Sex book (1992) brought many opportunities for memorable posters; I have so many variations I almost take them for granted. But above, I'm in love with this semi-recent acquisition because it was obviously quite limited (it's from the UK) in that...how many copies would be printed considering the book itself sold out so quickly?
And below, check out the difference in these two promotional posters for chain stores, one for 1996's Evita (advertising makeup) and one for 1992's Sex. People like to say Madonna always played herself on screen, but off screen I'd argue she always played her selves.
One of the most coveted posters from abroad is this elegant 1994 promo poster from Australia, a still from "Take a Bow." Love the facsimile autograph, and love how she was clearly auditioning for Evita with this video:
The Bedtime Stories period led into the period that found Madonna at her most curvaceous since the early Boy Toy days. This hawt "Spain 1995" poster, culled from her Versace sessions, is certainly rather hip:
In September of 1999, Madonna was set to appear on the MTV Video Music Awards, and was one of several icons to pose for David LaChapelle. Madonna had worked with him during the promotion of Ray of Light, but this was to be their final collaboration—LaChapelle later disparaged her and quit or was fired from directing her "Hung Up" video. This promo-only poster captures Madonna as the titular character from Bellini's opera Norma:
By the time Music rolled around, I was slowing down in my greedy acquisition of posters. Still, I made time and space for this vinyl, two-sided banner from 2000 showing Madonna the cowgirl sipping her Starbucks:
It's been a while since I saw any new posters of Madonna that really drove me wild, but I couldn't resist this striking vinyl banner from 2008's Hard Candy era:
And one poster from 2010 that deserves a mention is a promo by Mr. Brainwash of Madonna for his NYC show. It's not ready to be shot until it's all framed. I love it because it's ravaged—you would be, too, if you'd been glued to a wall through several rainstorms!—and yet it hasn't lost any of its potency.
I of course couldn't include EVERYTHING, or even samples of everything. If anyone has thoughts on any I'm missing here or any I might never have see—I'm all ears. And all eyes.