Wroclaw

Neon Wrocław

04 Oct 2017

Communist Poland typically calls to mind a cold, colourless landscape of uniform concrete drabness - essentially the antithesis of energetic and illuminated Times Square or Las Vegas, the very pinnacles of capitalist decadence and indecency. The little known irony here, however, is that neon signage - which is most closely associated with American commercialism and consumerism - was actually prolific in the People’s Republic of Poland during the Cold War. Though neglected for decades, many of PL’s neon signs have survived the vicissitudes of time and artistic trends to evoke nostalgia today, and inspire not only neon restoration projects, but a general revival in retro iconography and illuminated signage.

After Socialist Realism died with Stalin in the late 50s, a new, less restricted period of creative expression began in Poland, and neon rather oddly became the favoured medium of city authorities looking for an inexpensive way to brighten the grey urban landscape and create a veneer of economic prosperity at a time when stores shelves were practically bare. During the ‘neonisation’ programme of the 1960s and ’70s, the country’s most gifted architects and graphic designers were commissioned to create unique neon advertising for everything from Polish products and state-run companies to cultural landmarks like cinemas, theatres, nightclubs and train stations. Vibrant, stylish and often incredibly creative neon signs were an integral part of the urban landscape of communist Poland.

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