Rene Wanner's Poster Page


front cover Jan Mlodozeniec
edited by Andrzej Stroka; Armarium, Warsaw (June 2000); with texts by Zdzislaw Schubert and a curriclumu vitae by Jan Mlodozeniec; available at Galeria Grafiki i Plakatu, ul. Hoza 40, 00-516 Warsaw (PL), fax +48 - 22 -621 4077; 160 pages, about 130 color illustrations, many full page; 25 x 32 cm; hardcover; ISBN 83-913481-1-3; in polish and english; US$ 25.00
front cover Jan Mlodozeniec 1989
Photo by T. Przamowski

This book brings back many personal memories of my travels in Poland:

When I visited Franciszek Starowieyski in 1983 (see my first internet poster exhibition), I asked him whom else I should see in Warsaw. He suggested , without hesitation, Waldemar Swierzy and Maciej Urbaniec, and above all Jan Mlodozeniec, whom he seemed to admire most.

Having seen only a few reproductions of Mlodozeniec's work at that time, and most of them in black and white only, I was rather surprised. How could this virtuoso of 16th century drawing, with an aristocratic taste for the absurd, have such a high opinion of Mlodozeniec's rather simple forms and straightforward messages?

"Nobody else has such an understanding of color as Jan Mlodozeniec, he is in the same class as Henri Matisse", Starowieyski explained and arranged a meeting, not without warning me that Jan was very poor, since he put all his energy into posters, and did not care to waste his time with the many lesser things that artists do to keep alive.

The Mlodozeniec family and his son Piotr gave me a warm welcome, and many posters, but the master himself was away in Zakopane. He loves the mountains, they said. Nevertheless, the visit and it's preceding one-minute art history lesson was a real eye-opener. Zdzislaw Schubert's introductory sentences in the present book exactly mirror the cherished memories I keep of it:

A flat on the ground floor in a small apartment house from the thirties in the Mokotow district in Warsaw, just beside the busy Pulawska street. Green trees all around, seldom any cars. One room furnished with a functional simplicity and without an ostentatious attachment of importance to arrangements was taken up for the atelier of Jan Mlodozeniec, the author of excellent posters, graphic designs of publishing projects and a countless number of drawings. You could say it was the atelier of an applied art designer, as the profession used to be called before, or graphic designer to use more contemporary terminology, were it not for the fact that the oeuvre of this artist exceeds the boundaries of meanings traditionally attributed to these terms. On one hand, the artist put far more into his posters and illustrations than required by their strictly utilitarian character. On the other hand, and especially in the past decade, most of the works were created not on commission, but out of a deep inner need, revealing to the public Mlodozeniec the painter par excellence (intimates knew it all along) ...
1961, Birth certificate,
film poster
1968, Giselle,
theater poster
1971, Cromwell,
poster for an english film
1983, Classic polish theater in posters,
an exhibition from the collection of Janusz Gunia
1998, 50th anniversary of the Lodz drama school

Jan Mlodozeniec is credited with more than 400 posters, and since this book is not intended to be a catalogue raisonne, only a small selection is presented, but in large size and excellent reproduction quality. I am particularly pleased that one of my favorites is included, the poster for Janusz Gunia's exhibition of theater posters in Opole in April 1983. It's significance is not obvious for outsiders, so here is an explanation. I have it from Janusz himself, who was very pleased with the poster:

Remember that Poland was put under martial law on December 13, 1981, to crush the uprising of the Solidarity movement, and the state of war was lifted only in July 1984. A hundred had been killed and thousands arrested, and many graphic designers stopped working for the government in protest.

Mlodozeniec spoke up in his own characteristic way: He transformed the innocent exhibition poster into a political manifesto by painting it's border in exactly the same shade of blue as the uniforms of the hated special police. He then made it clear what this blue-gray did to polish culture, symbolized by the national colors red and white, and the peacock feather which stands for a traditional cracowian head dress. Everybody instantly got the meaning.

A more lighthearted joke is hidden in the poster for the School of film, television and theater in the city of Lodz, pronounced in polish to sound like "woodsh" in english. I hope you can detect the word "Holly" in the small reproduction above. Many Mlodozeniec posters radiate this tongue-in-cheek feeling, like the famous circus poster with the clown making off with part of the poster title, for example. Find it in the link list below, almost all polish poster dealers have it.

Andrzej Stroka gave me his beautiful book in June 2000, during the Warsaw Poster Biennale. A few months later, Zdzislaw Schubert and Piotr Dabrowski mailed me the sad news that Jan Mlodozeniec, born November 8, 1929, student of Henryk Tomaszewski, member of the Union of Polish Artists since 1959, and of AGI since 1974, had died on December 12, 2000.

Andrzej Stroka
Galeria Grafiki i Plakatu
Warsaw (PL)
Zdzislaw Schubert
National Museum
Poznan (PL)

Links with many more posters by Jan Mlodozeniec

The Art of Poster Gallery, Warsaw / Chicago
Polish Poster Shop, Wroclaw
The Polish Poster Gallery, Warsaw
Ogaki Poster Museum, Ogaki (J)
1998 Internet Graphic Design Competition
Contemporary polish cyrk posters
MR Posters & Graphics, Chicago
A chinese poster site
Poster by Jan Mlodozeniec for an exhibition by his sons Stanislaw and Piotr

home   other reviews  page last revised on December 16, 2000 / this section is part of Rene Wanner's Poster Page /