Waldemar Świerzy on Polish Posters in ’92

“The whole world is aware of the sweeping economic and political changes taking place in Poland, changes that, over the long term, promise a lasting improvement in livelihood. In the short term, however, the immediate cost of the difficult transition now underway is high. For poster art, as for many other cultural domains, this transition has produced a grave crisis, one which has now become clearly apparent. At the moment, then, the future of the poster in Poland does not look optimistic. There has even been talk about the ‘death’ of the poster, although the date of the funeral has not yet been set. Pessimists insist that sooner or later this is bound to occur. Others believe that the patronage, subject matter, and volume of posters being produced are certain to change. The only thing that is certain is that, in the present confusion, it is impossible to predict what will happen.

There was a time in Poland when every cultural event was announced by a poster. An opening night at the theater, a new movie, an exhibition, a concert, a circus – all demanded the creation of a new poster. Sadly, this time has now passed. Inflation and other hard economic realities are responsible for this unfortunate turn of affairs. For example, the theater, once a vital sponsor of poster art, has for the most part given up on the so-called ‘artistic poster’ because it is simply unaffordable under the present circumstances. The market for posters is thus greatly diminished; for this reason approximately two hundred fewer posters are produced in Poland each year. The commissioning of posters by corporations for celebrations, anniversaries, and festivals is also markedly off. Until recently, the number of posters produced annually in Warsaw alone came to several hundred. Now a mere faction of that number appears. All in all, it seems that yet another episode in our rich history and tradition may be coming to a close.

The current decline is an ironic and unexpected effect on the fin-de-siècle redefinition of Poland’s place in Europe. Walking in the streets of New York or Chicago, it is hard to find posters by famous poster artists. The same thing can be said about Frankfurt, Hamburg, or Tokyo. ‘Anonymous’ posters – posters by unidentified artists – are in the overwhelming majority, and now create the atmosphere of the street. Recently in Warsaw the yearly disappearance (or non-appearance) of several hundred posters is a very noticeable phenomenon that has resulted in the genuine impoverishment of the urban landscape, not to mention that the work of several generations of graphic artists may be wasted. One can only hope that the coming years will bring a renaissance of the tradition of the Polish poster.”

— Waldemar Świerzy (via Graphis Poster Annual, 1992)