NEW YORK, NY.- The Museum of Modern Art
presents Polish Posters 194589, an installation drawn from the Museums collection of 24 posters from the Cold War era of the Polish Poster School, which attracted international attention and admiration. Drawing on a rich Central European tradition in graphic arts, designers like Henryk Tomaszewski, Roman Cieślewicz, Jan Lenica, and Franciszek Starowieyski developed a sophisticated visual language characterized by surreal and expressionist tendencies, a bold use of color, and macabre, often satirical humor. Polish posters were generally created to promote cultural eventsopera, theatre, films and exhibitions. These posters images frequently contained explicit evocations of violence and sexuality and appeared at a time when there was little or no advertising. The Communist state maintained a strict censorship policy and monopolized the commissioning and distribution of all printed media in that period, yet bureaucratic patrons colluded in turning a blind eye to the oblique but powerful critical commentaries contained in many of the posters. On view May 6 through November 30, 2009, the exhibition is organized by Juliet Kinchin, Curator, and Aidan OConnor, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art.
Of all the Eastern Bloc countries, Poland maintained the most consistent and broad-based resistance to Soviet controlfrom the hard-line Stalinist years (1945-53), through the so-called Thaw after 1956, to the rise of the Solidarity movement (1980-89). The violence that erupted in different parts of the Soviet Bloc in 1956, 1968, and in 1989 was linked to events in Poland. Hostility to the Communist party and the regime was never far below the surface and was easily read into all forms of entertainment. Posters were among the most topical and subversive means through which Polish designers expressed their opposition to the state apparatus.
Examples on view include Tadeuz Trepkowskis dynamic bomb and building composition for Nie! (Never!) (1952), which captures the memory of the devastation wrought by World War II; Roman Cieślewiczs Wiezien (The Prisoner) (1962), which contains a figure constrained with an armored shell and suffocating from an eruption of flames and blood, for a production of Luigi Dallapiccolas opera; Jan Lenicas Wozzeck (Woyzeck) (1964), which uses a psychedelic aesthetic to convey the psychological torment that resonated in the atmosphere of escalating tension within the Communist Block; and Franciszek Starowieyskis Lulu (1980), which depicts a hybrid figure comprising a birds head and wings with a naked female torso that is simultaneously erotic and macabre. In 1985, Starowieyski was the first Polish artist to have a solo exhibition at MoMA.