The final exhibition in Polska! Year, a UK wide celebration of Polish Culture in the UK opened yesterday. The Polish Cultural Institute and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute present a major retrospective of the work of Roman Cieślewicz, one of the most influential graphic designers of the 20th century, at the Royal College of Art
which runs until 7 August 2010.
This landmark exhibition curated by David Crowley, Andrzej Klimowski and Jeff Willis, Royal College of Art and Anna Grabowska-Konwent, from the National Museum in Poznan, is the first major retrospective of Cieślewiczs work in Britain. Working first in Warsaw and then in Paris, Cieślewicz was at the heart of artistic life in both cities. In a career that bridged the Cold War division of Europe, he brought surrealist fantasy to the staid visual culture of communist Poland, and when he arrived in Paris in 1963, a critical perspective on consumer spectacle in the West.
The exhibition is comprised of:
· Film and cinema posters produced in Poland during the 1950s and 1960s including his classic design for Hitchcocks Vertigo which exploit the collage techniques and nightmare imagery of surrealism.
· Collage illustration for a number of classic works of twentieth century literature including Bruno Schultzs Street of Crocodiles, The Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass and Anatole Frances Les Dieux ont soif (The Gods Are Thirsty).
· Iconic magazine covers including his world-famous USSR/USA Supermen image for Opus
· Dynamic publicity for the Centre George Pompidou. Commissioned to design its posters and catalogues when the new centre of the arts opened in the late 1970s, Cieślewicz exploited his in-depth knowledge of Soviet avant-garde design.
The majority of the exhibits come from the largest and most important collection of his works in the National Museum in Poznan. Some of the exhibited pieces also come from Museum Art in Lódź and private collection of Cezary Pieczyński.
Cieślewicz was, alongside Fernando Arrabal and Alejandro Jodorowsky, a member of Panique, the 'last' surrealist group in France. At the same time he was a brilliant art director at Elle, and a contributor to Vogue. Remarkably prolific, he also worked closely with figures from the worlds of advertising and fashion including Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton.
Extraordinarily talented as an image-maker, Cieślewiczs tools were not the pen or the brush but the scalpel and scissors. Working with collage, he produced compelling and original images by reworking familiar icons such Che Guevara or Mona Lisa. I always go for the maximum picture and the maximum information. You need to stimulate imagination to the maximum he once said in an interview.
In the last ten years of his life he developed a sharply critical view of the influence of the media, most notably in his penetrating study of the society of the spectacle, Pas de Nouvelles Bonnes Nouvelles (No News is Good News, 1986), an exhibition and book project which remains remarkably current today.
Throughout his career he produced powerful political statements about the dignity of humanity in the face of injustice, not least in his public projections on Paris landmarks for the bicentenary of the French Revolution in 1989.
Cieślewicz had over one hundred solo exhibitions and participated in all major poster biennales in the world. His works can be found in the collections of the Polish National Museums in Warsaw.