American Film Masters – Polish Poster Masters

exhibition from the Collection of Contemporary Culture of Wrocław and the Department of Social Documents of the Ossolińskich National Museum

Market Square, north wall, October 18–30, 2010

Polish posters, American films

Polish film posters, especially those produced before 1980, are some of the most beautiful and creative film posters in the medium’s history. Most evidence lack of ready-made promotional materials from distributors, which gave free reign to designers’ inventiveness. The posters represent an artistic approach – in fact, most are signed.

The above quote from a popular book on posters (Edwin and Susan Poole, Collecting Movie Posters: An Illustrated Reference Guide, Jefferson, London 1997) reflects the surprise prevalent among Western experts that works of such invention, so unconventional and artistic, came from far beyond behind the Iron Curtain. It seems the only art expected from a communist country controlled by the Kremlin was social-realism propaganda. The reality was quite different, as noted by Jan Lenica, one of the leading and best-known Polish designers in the West, Polish poster design, which became wildly popular in the world because it is so ‘different,’ was original because we were cut off from that very world; the posters looked like nothing else at the time, because we knew so little, we worked on our own.

Whatever the reasons behind it, during its international heyday, Polish poster art and especially Polish film poster art, was so successful that the only comparable phenomenon is the highly innovative Soviet poster art of the 1920s. The Polish posters are painterly, metaphorical, and the hand-painted fonts relate directly to the images – all those factors contribute to their innovative appearance. Additionally, each designer represented his or her own easily recognizable style, providing an additional layer of variety to the overall phenomenon. An excellent example of the Polish school of design is a poster by Eryk Lipiński for Planet of the Apes (dir. Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968). The poster does not illustrate a scene from the film nor does it quote it. It is a collage of a gorilla face in a circle symbolizing the planet Earth, with the Statue of Liberty, cut out from an engraving, stuck into it: two close-ups, simplicity – all figurative rather than literal.

The American Film Masters – Polish Poster Masters is a collision of two worlds – Hollywood cinema, which appeals to the mass sensitivity with highly refined graphic design freed from the yoke of market mechanisms. The effects are often surprising, as they have been so frequently for Western audiences, and are sure to provide contemporary visitors, whether Polish or foreign, plenty of inspiration.

Marcin Giżycki



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