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The Art of Association - Masters of the Polish Poster in Chicago

00:00 31/03/2010


The Polish Museum of America
984 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL. 60642
16 IV - 16 V, 2010

With over 400,000 votes, Maria Mileńko, a student from The Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań was chosen as the winner of the Europe Day 2010 Poster Competition - a victory from among 2,000 contestants from the European Union. The poster, which will be seen in all 27 of its member nations and published in 23 languages, celebrates the foundation of Europe’s federation based on the highest values of peace and integration. We should be proud that the Polish poster is so well regarded abroad – stated poster expert Krzysztof Dydo in his well-known book, The Polish Poster of the 21st Century. The mastery of poster art among Polish artists is no more apparent than in the Post No Bills: Contemporary Polish Posters exhibition, which will be shown at The Polish Museum of America (PMA) from April 16 to May 16, 2010. For the first time in the United States, it will be possible to see works not only by Maria Mileńko, but also 75 other intriguing posters by 51 talented and award-winning students, graduates and their professors from leading institutions in Poland, in particular, The Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków and Katowice, known for their high caliber poster design education programs. The exhibition – under the patronage of Richard M. Daley, Mayor of Chicago and the Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Chicago, Zygmunt Matynia – is part of the city’s Artropolis program and allows the PMA to mark its presence once again on the cultural map of Chicago.


This exhibition wonderfully fits into the PMA’s program which, for the last several years, has intensively promoted young Polish art and has allowed the museum to acquire a new group of followers outside the Polish community, both in Chicago and internationally. The Polish Museum of America was established in 1935 and is one of the oldest and largest ethnic museums in the United States, but it also strives to be an active cultural center, attractive not only to the Polish public. Presentations of art such as Pressing Matter: A Glimpse at the Polish Print Continuum (2009), a graphic art exhibition organized in conjunction with the Southern Graphic Conference at Columbia College with 1,600 international delegates or Let’s Talk - An Exhibition of Emerging Art (2008) have expanded exposure and renewed interest in the museum for its exhibitions of modern art. After one such exhibition, Lauren Weinberg, art critic for Time Out Chicago, enthusiastically wrote about the PMA’s optimistic future.

Tradition remains important as well. The Polish Museum of America can boast of its noteworthy archival collection, book collection of 100,000 volumes and a unique collection of art, especially from the Inter War Period. In 2007, the tourist guide Fodor’s included the PMA on its list of Chicago’s 25 biggest attractions. Polish posters by distinguished artists are also wonderfully represented with over 5,000 works dated from the end of XIX to the XXI century. This collection is currently being inventoried and organized, an effort that is the first of its kind in the history of the PMA since its establishment over 70 years ago. An exhibition of 200 important 20th century posters from the PMA collection is planned for 2012 at The National Museum in Szczecin, and will largely showcase works whose duplicate originals were destroyed in collections in Poland during World War II. The Polish Museum of America has been able to create such a significant poster collection primarily through donations, often directly from the artists themselves. These included works by such master artists as Waldemar Swierzy, Roman Cieślewicz, Jan Lenica and Rafal Olbiński, all of whom designed a poster for one of the temporary exhibitions shown at the PMA. Their participation in these exhibitions was due in part to the expertise of the PMA’s guest curators, including gallery owner Piotr Dąbrowski, Krzysztof Dydo and Martin H. Rosenberg, whose collection of Polish posters is the largest in the United States. A portion of it has now been donated to the DePaul University Museum in Chicago.

As a continuation of this series of exhibitions, Post No Bills: Contemporary Polish Posters has been prepared in collaboration with Professor Piotr Kunce, who has been directing the Poster Design Studio at The Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków for nearly 30 years. He has lectured in the United States and Mexico and is the co-organizer of the Poster Festival in Kraków. His long time friend and co-worker, Wojciech Kwaśniewski, also represents the group of Kraków pedagogues in the upcoming exhibition. The pedagogical representatives of The Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice are Professor Roman Kalarus, head of the Poster Design Studio, and his highly recognized assistant, Dr. Monika Starowicz. Professor Kalarus, a renowned printmaker, has been awarded the Grand Prix twice during the Polish Poster Biennale in Katowice.

Thanks to its original content, innovative style and technical mastery, the Polish poster is recognized internationally. They are easily accessible for the viewer through their use of humor, metaphor and ellipsis. Professor Piotr Kunce writes: Thought is required when looking at a poster, it’s an activity for the intelligent. Shocking the viewer is based on the ability to find unexpected responses. The poster is a form of street art, but its relevance has gone beyond the street as it makes its way into galleries and museums. Despite the fact that in many countries it has been replaced by the tawdry commercial billboard, the poster is doing well. With its roots in the modernist Young Poland period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the phenomenon of the Polish poster, developed by the so-called Polish School of Posters, teaches us to think about this form of artistic expression as the best form of art. It is not a coincidence that the first poster museum in the world was opened in Poland.

 The confrontation of positions between young artists (many of whom are women) from three different Polish universities is convincing evidence of the strength of the Polish poster. The PMA’s exhibition will showcase topics chosen and worked on in different ways by students in the course of various artistic exercises. Very often, these are unique pieces usually existing in only one copy. These colorful and spectacular works are arguably, masterpieces. Although young, these artists are already acclaimed, for example Wojciech Kolka, Professor Piotr Kunce’s graduate from 2002, who is currently involved with printmaking and works with Canadian Pacific in the brand making department or Aleksandra Naparło, who received her diploma with honors from Professor Roman Kalarus’ studio, and currently operates her own advertising agency. Among those having received awards are Bartłomiej Drosdziok, Magdalena Drobczyk, Magdalena Walczak and Marta Toporowska. Students from other countries studying at Polish universities included in the exhibition are: Mira Jordanova from Bulgaria, Nina Pahler, Lidia Sperber and Lennart Langanki from Germany, Gizem Acarla from Turkey and Natalia Olbińska from the USA. The large presence of international students in Polish universities is a testament to the high caliber of education in the arts available in Poland. 

The PMA exhibition focuses on diversity, richness and excellence among Polish poster artists and their work. We should be proud that the Polish poster is so well regarded abroad.

Monika Nowak

Graphic Art Collection Curator

The Polish Museum of America, Chicago    

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