The exhibit will include 39 works by artists belonging to the legendary Polish School of Poster, reaching back to the 1950s and focusing on the generation active in the 1970s and 1980s – prior to the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. It will run until March 1 and is free and open to the public.
A Phantasmagoric Polish Poster
by Market Bartelik, Curator
The popularity of Polish poster art, which began in the 1950s and reached its peak in the 1970s, is a success story for the country that struggled to make its mark on the international art scene prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. After the emergence of the so-called “Polish School of Poster” in the 1950s, exhibitions organized around the world turned several local artists who specialized in poster design (in fact they blurred the boundaries between being an artist and a designer) into instant celebrities. Scholars and critics have scrutinized their achievements in numerous publications in a celebratory manner, creating a myth that presented those artists as local stars, who managed to beat all kinds of odds, political and economic included, and developed a highly unique Polish style in art.
With the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, the Polish School of Poster collapsed as well, turning its artistic production into an instant relic associated with an unpopular political past. In fact, with the rapid development of new political and economic systems the old artistic culture associated with street art (poster making included) vanished practically overnight. With the emergence of new forms of communication, such as the Internet and digital media, posters lost their special appeal to advertisers. Furthermore, globalization contributed to the uniformity of poster design, resulting in making most of the works produced in Poland look formulaic, many of them like ersatz versions of the works from the past.
The works in this show display the visual modality of the Polish School of Poster: hand-painted graphic forms, suggestive rather than descriptive, harmonized with succinct typography, and executed in bold, vivid colors. They are whimsical and fantastic, but can also be gloomy and disturbing. The first wave of poster designers, which emerged after World War II, often championed a humorous yet “aristocratic” asceticism of form and total synchronization of images and typography. To that language, subsequent artists added the more “plebeian,” cartoon-like, and collaged simplicity and flatness associated with Pop and folk art. Many Polish poster artists played with the verbal-visual conflation in an iconic fashion, which is a staple of the School.
In fact, the importance of humor in Polish posters should be stressed here, for both the censors (prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, all posters had to be approved by the censors before they could be printed) and the artists were aware of the Polish public’s ability to read between the lines. Humor – deliberate or unintended – often played a decisive role in determining the popularity of a film or play. But, more importantly for most Poles, the double-speak often conveyed in posters had a broader significance: It was a form of quiet dissent through laughter.
Dr. Bartelik is an art historian, art critic and poet specializing in 20th century art and theory of art. He arrived in the United States in 1985, has given lectures, since 1996, on modern and contemporary art at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art of New York and has taught art theory at MIT and Yale University. He is the president of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA). After accepting the presidential post, Dr. Bartelik declared a desire to strengthen the AICA as a vital platform in the expression of art ideas to strive for higher standards of excellence.
“Through the images in these posters, we are fortunate to gain insight into the visuals that accompanied Polish street life in the 1970s and 80s. During this time, these posters functioned as town criers as well as art works, informing the public about cultural events,” said Sophia Gevas, director of the Gallery. “Flying under the radar, they allowed artists an opportunity to express themselves in ways that were not as restrictive as the arts under Communism traditionally were. Artists did not restrict themselves to what we might think of in the West as typical commercial advertising. Often more typical of painterly, expressive compositions than graphic art, these works redefined the poster. These powerful images — advertising films, plays, art exhibitions, musical performances and more — were created for a public that was walking through the city and played a huge part in energizing the Polish streets.”
The Gallery of Contemporary Art at Sacred Heart University, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield, is open Monday – Thursday, 12–5 and Sundays, 12–4. Admission is free. For further information, please contact Sophia Gevas at 203-365-7650 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: http://artgallery.sacredheart.edu.