08/02/2011 12:31 pm ET | Updated Oct 02, 2011

For The Kids: A Vintage Sports Poster Exhibition

Over the past decade or so, retro has gone from old and out to old and in. Whether it's sneakers, hats, or uniforms, the sports merchandise industry has picked up on the trend and adapted accordingly.

The Salon 94 Freemans art gallery has also catered to the renewed popularity of vintage sports memorabilia with its acclaimed exhibition, "For The Kids." Located in Manhattan's East Village, one of the creative hubs of New York City, the gallery is displaying sports posters created by John and Tock Costacos from 1986 through 1990. The exhibition, which began June 23, is running until Aug. 5.

Co-curators Adam Shopkorn and Fabienne Stephan wanted to reintroduce the once hugely popular work of the Costacos brothers, whose stylized posters featured premier, often controversial athletes. The imaginative posters combine sports and pop culture, giving each athlete a "personality" and casting them in unique scenes.

Ms. Stephan, who has never worked on a sports-related project before, said she was especially drawn to "the font [on the posters], the way [they're] written and the names they thought of for the players."

According to Mr. Shopkorn, the posters, which once cost "between $2.99 and $6.99," now sell for up to $2,500 at the gallery. While that may sound like a lot of money, the project capitalizes on very fond memories of people who, up until now, had no way of purchasing an authentic poster.

Mr. Shopkorn says that while the poster that features Michael Jordan, entitled "Space: The Final Frontier," is the all-time bestseller for the Costacos brothers, the Patrick Ewing and Dominique Wilkins posters have been wildly popular as well.

If you are interested in buying a poster or t-shirt from the exhibition, you can do so at the gallery, located at 1 Freeman Alley, until Aug. 5. You can also buy them online.

Below these photos from the exhibition, you will find an interview with Adam Shopkorn, one of the curators, and John Costacos, one of the artists.

What inspired you to run such an unusual exhibition?

Adam Shopkorn: I wanted to do a show where I played with the high and the low. Jeff Koons (who has two Nike posters featured in the gallery) is this incredibly famous contemporary artist, and it's just about as high as you can get, so I never really understood why I couldn’t mount and frame a poster by the Costacos brothers and put it in an art gallery in the same way.

The more I looked at their early work the more I thought they were geniuses from a graphic design perspective -- posing athletes, the way they were creating these slogans. They were creating these superheroes, which is essentially what athletes were becoming -- giving them these sort of alternate realities and personas.

When I had the posters in my bedroom growing up [they cost] between $2.99 and $6.99. We put thumbtacks through the posters and tape on the wall. 25 years later, going into the marketplace and trying to find pristine, untouched work was a challenge.

You were in the t-shirt business at first. How did the idea for the posters originate?

John Costacos: The NFL wouldn’t give us rights. There was a store in Seattle called 'The Locker Room.' I asked one of the girls that worked there what people ask for and she said a picture of [Seahawks player] Kenny Easley. I called up the Seahawks and got his agent's number. We were really lucky. The first stroke of luck was a call back. Kenny was the kind of guy that wanted to sit down directly and talk to me. He said he didn’t want to do any posters running down the field or anything in uniform. I said, "What if we do something more creative? They called you 'the enforcer' in college -- maybe we can do something like that." And it happened.

Adam just randomly called you one day with the idea of the gallery?

JC: We sold the business in June of 1996. Adam calls me up and says, 'Are you one of the Costacos brothers who made the posters?' I said 'Yes,' and he said, "Wow, I just got your number from 411." I thought, "Wow this is art now?" Neither of us had any experience in graphic design or art.

What were some of the most memorable shoots you did?

AS: That's a real live bear cub that they rented from Wisconsin [for the 'Mad Max' shoot with Jim McMahon]. The brothers told me that the bear cub took a swipe at McMahon's left knee but he was wearing a knee pad.

JC: The 'Mad Max' shoot was funny. Jim was holding the collar and the bear was looking every other direction. They were dropping marshmallows in between shots because he kept trying to walk away. Jim pulled up on the collar and he growled and took a swipe. I looked at my brother and said, "Are we ensured for this?"

Oh man, Eric Dickerson -- 'The Roboback' -- he's walking onto the set. The fog machine had made the floor really slick. He took about two steps and his feet went out from under him and landed flat on his back. He just stopped and was motionless. He didn't say anything. I went over and he just started chuckling and said, "Wow."

The Herschel Walker one with the bombs. The first shot of that, Herschel was a few inches up in the air because it scared the crap out of him. The first bomb went off, it was loud and hot and flamed up, and that's when Herschel started running. That's where the shot went.

What have been some of the funnier reactions from visitors?

AS: All of the clichés that you would expect. A bunch of 30-somethings will say, "Oh, do you remember when Dexter Manley said he was illiterate?" They talk about 'The Boz' [Brian Bosworth] and people are like, "Who was the Boz?"

The James Worthy 'LA Law' -- that's his wife at the time [in the poster], so people have jokes around her. And I think around the same time, he was caught with four women in a hotel room. People obviously joke about steroids, obviously the 'Bash Brothers' [poster with Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco].

What's next for the exhibition?

AS: I would love to close in Seattle or maybe even take it overseas. The next goal is to take the show on the road to Los Angeles, another market we think will be receptive to this [with a] retro, nostalgic fan base.

Joakim Noah came in jokingly saying, "I'm playing in the wrong era; I should have played in the 80s." Alex Rodriguez came in and asked John Costacos why they weren’t making these posters anymore, and John said, "Really, do you think we should?" and Alex said, "I don't see why not." Joakim said he would be interested.

People initially say this would never happen again, but the more you think about, the more you think maybe I could bring the Costacos brothers out of retirement for one more run today.

JC: I liked the creative stuff a lot and working with the players and agents. I didn't like dealing with the licensing side of it. What's happened since the gallery is I've had people representing players ask me about doing portraits, which is a really interesting concept to me. It works the opposite way as before. I won't be chasing them down. If a player wants me to do something for them, sure I'd do it. Part of the fun of everything was keeping the budgets low and doing it for probably a fifth for what it should have cost.

Email me or ask me questions about anything poster or sports related at @206Child for my upcoming mailbag.

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