Creative Inspiration – “Illusions – The Art of Magic “ Poster Collection

Hey if you need a mental break to replenish your creative juices , you can take a virtual tour of the Illusion: Art of Magic that is being held at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto since February. This is a poster collection from the golden era of magicians (circa 1890 -1930).

This was the era where posters were used as an advertising medium, so it may inspire some creative ideas that can be used today. You can say these posters are the templates for the modern infographic used in digital advertising executions. These posters explores the lost art of illustration, the use of story telling and the use of sensationalism in copy in advertising that still exists today.


Step back in time to the Golden Age of Magic between 1890 and 1930, when magicians travelled the world, promoting their acts with eye catching posters. Illustrating the daring escapes, death defying tricks and colourful personas that made performers like Harry Kellar, Howard Thurston and Harry Houdini household names. The exhibition features more than 55 posters from the Allan Slaight Collection of the McCord Museum, Montreal, alongside photographs, films, documents, autographs, and objects belonging to the legendary Harry Houdini.

Julian Cox, the AGO’s Deputy Director and Chief Curator says, “These posters tell us so much about that time – the public’s fascination with Asia, with spiritualism, the occult and the changing role of women in society.”  Originally curated by Christian Vachon, Curator, Paintings, Prints and Drawings, at the McCord Museum, and guest curator Toronto magician and historian David Ben, Illusions: the Art of Magic introduces visitors to the leading performers from the Golden Age of Magic, including Adelaide Herrmann, the only female magician of her time to perform the “bullet catch”; Charles Carter, known as Carter the Great; Anna Eva Fay; and Chung Ling Soo. 

There are a series of archival grainy black and white projections that demonstrate iconic illusions of the time, including Harry Blackstone’s Spirit Hankerchief. The exhibition calls attention to the role of women in magic and their portrayal in the posters, to the rise of spiritualism, and to the reoccurring imagery of devils, skulls and demons, and the ways performers appropriated various cultural identities in their art.

Harry Houdini the most celebrated magician of the Golden Age was a consummate self-promoter. The posters that chart the evolution of his act from card manipulation and handcuff escapes to his infamous death defying feats, as well as books he authored and props he used, including one of his strait jackets, the exhibition reveals Houdini’s mastery of the art form.

 “Illusions – The Art of Magic “ Poster Collection

Below are 11 posters from the collection being shown at the AGO in Toronto. They have graciously allowed us to provide you with a mini-Virtual Tour of the exhibit for Office Today readers.

The AGO is open from Thursday through Sunday from 10:30 to 5:00pm. You will need to book your tickets online.