Gallery of Contemporary Art to Exhibit 'Voices in the Streets' Polish Posters

News Story: September 13, 2012

Sacred Heart University’s Gallery of Contemporary Art will feature Voices in the Streets: Polish Posters from the Collection of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York. The exhibit opens on Sunday, January 22, with a reception from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Following the reception, Dr. Marek Bartelik, exhibition curator, will give a talk at 3:30 p.m. The exhibit will include 39 works by artists belonging to the legendary Polish School of Poster, reaching back to the 1950s and focusing on the generation active in the 1970s and 1980s – prior to the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. It will run until March 1 and is free and open to the public.

The show will feature the work of Tadeusz Trepkowski, Henryk Tomaszewski, Franciszek Starowieyski, Jan Mlodozeniec, Jerzy Czerniawski, Erol, Jan Sawka, and Stasys Eidrigevicius. These artists have been internationally praised for their innovative graphic language that blends sharp humor and wit with astute observation of life. The works are predominantly posters for foreign and domestic plays, films and other artistic events. They include Tomaszewski’s poster for Witold Gombrowicz’s History (An Operetta) and Franciszek Starowieyski’s poster for Molière’s Don Juan, both performed at the Teatr Nowy (New Theater) in Warsaw in 1983.

Henryk Tomaszewski

The popularity of Polish poster art, which began in the 1950s and reached its peak in the 1970s, is a success story for the country that struggled to make its mark on the international art scene prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. After the emergence of the so-called “Polish School of Poster” in the 1950s, exhibitions organized around the world turned several local artists who specialized in poster design (in fact they blurred the boundaries between being an artist and a designer) into instant celebrities. Scholars and critics have scrutinized their achievements in numerous publications in a celebratory manner, creating a myth that presented those artists as local stars, who managed to beat all kinds of odds, political and economic included, and developed a highly unique Polish style in art.

With the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe, the Polish School of Poster collapsed as well, turning its artistic production into an instant relic associated with an unpopular political past. In fact, with the rapid development of new political and economic systems the old artistic culture associated with street art (poster making included) vanished practically overnight. With the emergence of new forms of communication, such as the Internet and digital media, posters lost their special appeal to advertisers. Furthermore, globalization contributed to the uniformity of poster design, resulting in making most of the works produced in Poland look formulaic, many of them like ersatz versions of the works from the past.

Jan Sawka

Dr. Bartelik is an art historian, art critic and poet specializing in 20th century art and theory of art. He arrived in the United States in 1985, has given lectures, since 1996, on modern and contemporary art at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art of New York and has taught art theory at MIT and Yale University. He is the president of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA). After accepting the presidential post, Dr. Bartelik declared a desire to strengthen the AICA as a vital platform in the expression of art ideas to strive for higher standards of excellence.

“Through the images in these posters, we are fortunate to gain insight into the visuals that accompanied Polish street life in the 1970s and 80s. During this time, these posters functioned as town criers as well as art works, informing the public about cultural events,” said Sophia Gevas, director of the Gallery. “Flying under the radar, they allowed artists an opportunity to express themselves in ways that were not as restrictive as the arts under Communism traditionally were. Artists did not restrict themselves to what we might think of in the West as typical commercial advertising. Often more typical of painterly, expressive compositions than graphic art, these works redefined the poster. These powerful images — advertising films, plays, art exhibitions, musical performances and more — were created for a public that was walking through the city and played a huge part in energizing the Polish streets.”

The Gallery of Contemporary Art at Sacred Heart University, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield, is open Monday – Thursday, 12–5 and Sundays, 12–4. Admission is free. For further information, please contact Sophia Gevas at 203-365-7650 or