Polish Cold War neons illuminate history

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One of the most surprising legacies of Cold War-era Poland is its brilliant variety of neon signs, the first of which went up in Warsaw in 1929. Popular from the start, neons saw a flourishing in the cities in the 1950s, -60s and -70s.The earliest neon signs were made to order—free in design, shape, and color, and very influential on other forms of advertising, like poster design and typography. After the Communist regime gained power after World War II, it largely took over neon production with its state-run agency, Reklama. Designed and built by prominent architects, graphic designers, and artists, Polish neon signage was renowned worldwide for its outstanding technical and artistic qualities.

Of more than 1,000 that once existed in the country, only a few dozen neons remain in their original locations—some fully renovated, like the Mozaika neon on Pulawska St. (below, bottom), Izis on Marszalkowska (below, middle, inset), the Tkanina sign (Polish for “cloth”) on Wilsona Sqare, or a giant globe advertising a travel bureau (below, bottom, inset).Many other neon signs have been rescued and put on display at the Neon Muzeum (top) in the industrial Praga district, where many former factories now house a range of cultural venues, shops, and restaurants.

Located in the Soho Factory arts complex, the Neon Muzeum began as a 2005 documentary project on Poland’s Cold War neon signage and has since grown into one of Warsaw’s most interesting cultural institutions. The largest of its kind in Europe, the collection offers a fascinating look at the intersection of art, technology, and social movements in the Polish People’s Republic and serves as an illuminating entry point into the country’s postwar history.

 

All images excerpted from Warszawa Warsaw, an online and print publication by Autor Rooms, the first hospitality concept in Poland built entirely from local products in collaboration with local designers and producers.

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Tuesday, January 15th, 2019