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Romance Sign Language Of Romania

On May 2, 2011, I wrote this Daily Heller (and text below) about the 50s and 60s history of Romanian graphic design. Now a new volume of Graphics Without Computer is published that focuses on “Letters. Hand-Drawn, Embossed and Volumetric.”

Signs of the Times

In other words, lots of signs – electric, metallic and spectacular. The similarities with other parts of post-war Europe during the Communist period are clear. Illuminated spectaculars were employed to give cities like Bucharest a sense of excitement and bounty. Often they were just bandages or false facades over the drabness familiar in Communist Cold War urban areas. But there is also a typographic sensibility that seems to have re-emerged as a form of retro.

Romania is no longer a design backwater. Every year in May, Romanian Design Week is held for ten days. But this is its root that remains from not too long ago.

Left Behind Signs

When I think of Romania (Rumania), alas I think of this song in Yiddish by Aaron Lebedeff (you’ll need to click to play). I also think of Saul Steinberg, who left Romania in the 30s and brought with him to America a native sense of the absurd. Now, thanks to the typographer Ovidiu Hrin from Timisoara, I’m thinking of Romania in terms of its Cold War design. He writes:

A couple of Romanian designers (living & working in Bucharest) have launched a brilliant book about Romanian graphic design (1930’s – 1990’s), I bought a copy instantly for you and want to send you one asap as the information I saw there was flabbergasting even for me.

Graphics Without Computer: 50 Years of Modest Achievements by Atelierul De Grafica, with essays by Vivana Iacob, Calin Torsan and Mihai Tudoroiu, is a fascinating collection of commercial, government, and industrial posters and other graphics. Some of it recalls the Socialist Realism of the Iron Curtain, others suggest the influence of Polish and Czech design that through wit and abstraction bypassed the censors.

Much of the material came from “frequently exploring the sites of various important Romanian factories,” say the authors, “today fabulous ruins and wastelands. . . Coming from stifling Bucharest, visually speaking, the fragments of letters and posters we found there seemed so well made. We tried to find out more about the idea of their being ‘well made.” And that’s where the idea came from to rummage through Romanian graphics in all its variety. We discovered how the profession of graphic design also existed in the workshops of factories and other institutions, not just those of the Union of Fine Artists. . .”

To order the bilingual book, you might try here (remember Romanian is a romance language).

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