It is a little known fact in the Jewish world that Poland is famous for its artistic posters. At the annual art and poster fairs held in New York City there is always a very large and impressive collection of fine art posters from Poland.
Surprisingly, a high number of them have Jewish themes. Last week an exhibit of nearly 100 Jewish-themed Polish posters was opened at the JCC of Manhattan.
In a talk given at the gala opening of the exhibit, Donald Mayer spoke about the long history of Polish poster printing and how the art form always contained a Jewish flavor due to the fact that Jewish culture was so entwined with Polish culture as a whole.
The poster for the film “A Shop On Main Street”
“Even after the Shoah, when there were hardly any Jews left in Poland,” Mayer explained, “there was not a significant drop in Jewish poster art.”
There are many examples of Yiddish theater posters, as well as posters for books, films and cultural events.
Most of the posters in the exhibit were printed after the Shoah, and therefore many have a melancholy look to them. Many are in stark colors with broken or twisted imagery, depicting the mood of the subject.
The poster for “A Shop On Main Street” by Wiktor Gorka, 1965, was printed for the Academy-Award-winning film starring an aging Ida Kaminska. It shows shadows of a pair of old hands reaching for buttons on a beige background. This poster is an example of what was produced for the foreign market, as the film was produced by a Czech production company. Some other well-known films are represented at the exhibit are “Cabaret” and “Europa Europa.”
A post-Holocaust poster in memory of the lost Jewish communities of Poland.
Music and opera are also popular poster topics. There is a whole grouping of posters relating to “Fiddler on The Roof” and other familiar stories that have been put to music, such as “Nabuco,” Verdi’s opera telling the story of the Babylonian exile, and “La Juive.”
Another popular subject for poster art, especially after the fall of communism in 1989, is the Jewish Cultural Festival held each year in Krakow. For 18 years now, exceptional Jewish-themed posters have been produced for this popular festival held annually in Krakow at the end of June. While the Krakow festival features new posters each year, the Jewish festival in Warsaw reuses the same posters each year but changes the color scheme for every festival.
One of the many posters for the play “A Fiddler on The Roof” –
notice the stripes of the tzitzit used to form the theme of the play.
Most of the posters were printed on poor paper, as posters are considered ephemera – printed works not expected to last very long. The posters at the exhibit have been backed with linen for preservation, and some are even signed by the artist.
The exhibit by Yalin and Donald Mayer of Contemporary Posters can be viewed at the JCC of Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th Street, until January 17, 2007.
All the posters are for sale.