Mieczyslaw Górowski, born 1941. Policja (The Police), 1982. Poster for a play by Slawomir Mrozek. Offset lithograph. 32 1/2 x 23 1/8", The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of the artist.

The Art and Design of Polish Posters from the Cold War Era, 1945-1989

Jan Lenica, 1928-2001, Wizyta Starszej Pani (The Visit), 1958. Poster for play by the Swiss dramatist, Friedrich Dürrenmatt. Offset lithograph. 34 x 24”, The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of the Triton Gallery.

Tadeuz Trepkowski, 1914-1954. Nie! (Never!), 1952. Lithograph. 39 3/8 x 27 5/8”, The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of The Lauder Foundation, Leonard and Evelyn Lauder Fund.


Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York
The Philip Johnson Architecture and Design Galleries, third floor
Polish Posters 1945-89
May 6-November 30, 2009

Polish Posters 1945-89, is drawn from the Museum’s 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 Cieslewicz, 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 events — opera, 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. The exhibition is organized by Juliet Kinchin, Curator, and Aidan O’Connor, 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 control — from 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 Trepkowski’s dynamic bomb and building composition for Nie! (Never!) (1952), which captures the memory of the devastation wrought by World War II; Roman Cies´lewicz’s 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 Dallapiccola’s opera; Jan Lenica’s 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 Starowieyski’s Lulu (1980), which depicts a hybrid figure comprising a bird’s 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.

Jan Sawka, born 1947, Exodus, 1974. Poster for STU’s premiere of Leszek Moczulski’s alternative theatre production. Offset lithograph. 38 5/8 x 26 3/4” (98 x 67.8 cm). The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of the artist.


Roman Cieslewicz, 1930-1996. Ksiadz Marek (Friar Marek). 1963. Poster for production of the 1843 drama by Juliusz Slowacki. Offset lithograph. 33 5/8 x 23 3/4", The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of the artist.