Warsaw has a long legacy as a capital of design innovation. This past week I did workshops at the Polish-Japanese Academy of Information Technology (PJAIT) at the invitation of the tireless design scholar Ewa Satalecka. Packed into the surprisingly numerous activities—all underscoring 2018, the 100th anniversary of Polish independence—two exhibitions stand out.
1. The Future Will Be Different
Visions and Practices of Social Modernism After 1918 (Zachęta – National Gallery of Art) focusing on the social modernization ideas that emerged in Poland after the Great War. Unknown to me, Polish statehood, not the Russian Revolution, was in the vanguard of cultural change in terms of city and social planning markedly influencing art, architecture, graphic design and culture in general. The “visions and practices” suggest the Bauhaus and Constructivist thinking of the period, but with its own twist. The exhibition, which includes films, architectural models and publication graphics, focuses on the not-so-utopian goal of ending poverty, widespread healthcare and raising standards of living. The title was taken from a 1921 manifesto by Zofia Daszynska-Golinska that reads: “But we live on in the hope that the future will be different.” It was a model society in the planning stages, ultimately consumed by the Nazi genocidal war and the Soviet quest for hegemony over the Polish people.
2. The Neon Muzeum (Permanent Collection)
Since 2005 the private museum in a former industrial district of Warsaw, directed by David S. Hill and Ilona Karwinska, has been dedicated to the documentation and the preservation of Cold War–era neon signs. The enormous task of researching and restoring the last surviving remnants of the so-called “great neonization” campaign across the former Eastern Bloc to give the illusion of social and commercial vibrancy and prosperity. Their ongoing efforts “have been credited with ushering in a new neon renaissance throughout Poland; a movement that culminated in the opening of the first and only museum of its kind in Europe.”
The permanent collection contains hundreds of dazzling neon signs and other electro-graphic artifacts; many of which were designed by the great artists of the age—who were responsible for the world-famous Polish Poster School. These public artifacts were born from revolution, served as state propaganda, and flourished during Poland’s post-war period.
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