How was it possible? The Origins of the International Poster Biennale in Warsaw
Katarzyna Matul, How was it possible? The Origins of the International Poster Biennale in Warsaw, Universitas, Kraków, 2015
How was it possible in the communist country to organize the International Poster Biennale – a cultural event that enabled a free exchange between Western artists and those from communist countries in a way that ignored the iron curtain? This book explains that it was just an apparent paradox. The concept of Biennale coincided with propaganda objectives of cultural policy during the late 1960s. The poster was deemed to be an export good, a means to promote achievements of the communist system.
At the same time, Warsaw Biennale founders had ambitions to put it on the map of the most important modern art events, such as Biennale in Venice or São Paulo. They wanted the poster to become one of the disciplines of modern art. This goal was translated into a strategy to ‘consecrate’ the poster as a piece of art. Inspired by recognized art events, the organizers of the first Poster Biennale sought to accompany the main exhibition by other prestigious events, such as: symposium about the role of an image in urban space or a retrospective exhibition presenting the history of Polish poster over the last century, organized in the National Museum in Warsaw, as well as many related publications. The composition of the Biennale jury and the list of guests reflected the organizers’ desire to go beyond the poster community and to address modern art critics, artists, and directors of key cultural institutions such as New York’s MoMA and Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
On one hand, this swift promotion of the poster from streets to showrooms was welcomed with enthusiasm. On the other hand, it generated relevant questions about the role of the poster in this new environment so artificial by nature. Attempts to define to what extent the poster fulfils a commercial or aesthetic role were challenged by the fact that a functional medium was accepted as a museum subject.
The book of Katarzyna Matul dedicated to the Ist International Poster Biennale, organized in Warsaw in 1966, is an interesting monography of the event. The Biennale, which was of great importance amongst the Polish poster artists, fitted into the larger Polish cultural policy of the late Gomulka’s period. The political “thaw” was already gone and the year 1968 was approaching. Polish School of Poster, which was at that time very popular, became an export good of Polish culture. It also smoothed the ways and enabled contacts of Polish graphic designers with the leading artists in the world. That is how the Poster Biennale was created, such were its origins. The author tells this story with the precision of a researcher and the passion of an art historian.