Polish cine posters: Artist liberation and aesthetic innovation

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Lending considerable prestige to the ‘stick-to-the-wall-and-tear-it-down’ medium of the poster, was the first International Exposition of the Poster held in Krakow, Poland in the fag end of the 19th century, 1898 to be precise. Jan Wdowiszewski, the then director of the ‘Technical Industrial Museum’ authored two essays devoted to the art of the poster, and in conceiving the Poster Exposition, tapped into the artistic vitality of Krakow of that era, and in turn laid the foundations of what will be later internationally known as Polish Poster Art. The artists associated with the initial poster years in Poland were from the Academy Of Fine Arts and were members of the Society of Polish Artists“Sztuka” – there was acceptability associated with creating posters of various kinds, and over the next century, this specific ‘zeitgeist’ saw some of the most remarkable visual expressions through posters, making them an identifiable and essential part of Polish culture. With Polish independence, post First World War, Tadeusz Gronowski, an architecture student at the University of Warsaw rose to the fore as one of the key ‘architects’ of Polish poster art, responding to the needs of an industrialized nation and the urgently required advertising communications. Gronowski’s work was marked by modernist, cubist impulses and an irreverence for visual tradition, a liberating move from the poster styles of the earlier periods. His work was carried further by later architects turned graphic artists from the University of Warsaw. 

Communist rule in Poland in the post Second World War era saw the emergence of poster propaganda, where much of the representations were borrowed from the Soviet propaganda poster tradition. Much later, the very same control and structure of communist governance and administration gave rise to the most fruitful and artistically rewarding period in Polish poster art. In any case, it remains a good example of aesthetic innovation being fostered by political necessities. The period from the 1950s to the 1980s, saw the flowering and the gradual decline of this aesthetic impulse, marked by the acceptance and gradual rejection of communism in Poland. The film industry was controlled by the state. There were two main institutions responsible for commissioning poster designs and they commissioned not graphic designers but artists and as such each one of them brought an individual voice to the poster. The state wasn’t quite concerned much with how the posters looked, and in working outside the commercial constraints of a capitalist economy, the artists could fully express their potential. Take a look at some of the inventive poster voices from Poland of that era, interpreting English language cinema for a communist government and a domestic audience.

Godfather (1972)

Star Wars (1977)

Klute (1971)

Tootsie (1982)

Wallstreet (1987)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Return of the Jedi (1983)

The Legacy (1978)

Working Girl (1988)

Alien (1979)

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Cabaret (1972)

Strangers on a Train (1951)

The Terminator (1984)

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