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Post No Bills at The Polish Museum of America

by Robin Dluzen

Post No Bills at The Polish Museum of America

The walk from the subway to The Polish Museum of America at half-past eight in the evening is quite desolate and dark. However, this desolation was, for me, happily relieved upon entering the opening of “Post No Bills: Contemporary Polish Posters,” hosted by the museum on Friday, April 16th. The museum’s Great Hall was packed with people, which only added to the vibrant atmosphere already created by the massive installation of contemporary posters by students and faculty from The Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow and Katowice, Poland.

Despite the lingering and acknowledged recent Polish tragedy, an immense crowd of fervent but respectful viewers turned up for the opening of the poster exhibition. This sort of enthusiasm for posters is truly a phenomenon unusual in the American art world, though it stems from a long-standing, established tradition in Polish society. Originating amongst the European Modernist art traditions, Polish posters have long been considered a fine art genre with a unique history. The design, craft and concepts in “Post No Bills” are of a high caliber, and are executed with wit, sincerity and knowledgeableness, and with schools, programs, museums, galleries and biennials dedicated to the genre, it is no wonder that TV camera crews were also in attendance during the opening.

Post No Bills at The Polish Museum of America

The convergence of past and present, of the traditional and the contemporary become even more blatant in context; on fairly short, temporary walls, the posters are hung at people-height, but on the walls of the high-ceilinged great room surrounding the circle of temporary walls hang vast, classical, Polish history paintings. The contrast of these two types of two-dimensional traditions further charges the content of the exhibition, highlighting the fine line that the paintings and posters are toeing among the nationalistic, the propagandistic, the populistic and the artistic.

In form with the traditions of Polish poster-making, the works in this show vary in content, addressing themes of contemporary and historical/political notions on the worldwide to the more localized scale. Though the exhibition was pretty crowded with people and works, with a little effort it is possible to spend time with individual posters and their meanings; Love, by Marta Toporowska, referencing illustration and drawing rather than graphic design, employs a simple figure ground for a sweet, simple humor of a small slim man embracing and being engulfed by a woman’s massive bosom;

Post No Bills at The Polish Museum of America

More seriously, Dariusz Milczarek’s Beatrix Cenci portrays a woman (a representation of the title character of the tragic opera) with the eyes of the black and white portrait spray-painted over with a deep orange; And combining humor and mild cultural critique, the series, “Hens in History” by Natalia Olbinska, in a digitalized graphic language depicts a chicken in various momentous occasions, like landing on the moon in Hen in World History, or in George Washington’s hair in Hens in the History of America.

The variety of subject matter makes the contents of the exhibition difficult to sum up as a whole, but this overview of Polish poster art illustrates the democratic usage of the poster as a medium that has prevailed into the contemporary era.

“Post No Bills: Contemporary Polish Posters” is on display April 16 through May 16, 2010 at The Polish Museum of America, 984 North Milwaukee Ave, Chicago. This show is part of the Chicago Artropolis program. Further programming at the PMA can be viewed at http://www.polishmuseumofamerica.org.