We’re a little late with this post because we spent the weekend in Warsaw, where we went to see Pixies live (and it was pretty cool). But we also happened upon a nice little typographic exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art presenting the phenomenon of Polish vernacular typography.
While not very large, the exhibition is pretty well thought out because it shows the history and ramifications of the whole phenomenon. Polish vernacular typography functioned in a different situation than e.g. American one, without the pressure of free market. As such, it was primarily informative but also pretty unconstrained. Sometimes business-owners did it themselves, but sign painter was also a job and the exhibition interestingly includes a few quotations from people who worked as such before economic transformation forced them out. It has a charming, if too small, collection of original signs from that time:
From the top the signs say: “H. Dąbrowski, Tailor” | “Your Carelessness May Cause Fire” | “Tenants! Remember to Save Light and Water to Prevent Wastefulness” | “Please Don’t Smoke.”
When economy changed in the 90s, Polish street typography turned pretty terrible, which is showed in the exhibition with a collage of photographed street signs, clearly made by amateurs thanks to the sudden availability of cheap print and ready-made letters. Unfortunately, you can still see the results of this outbreak in the streets today.
And finally there is also a part of the exhibition which shows modern designs inspired by Polish vernacular. It includes not-so-interesting artsy compositions, but also more directed designs. This is, for instance, an identity designed as a diploma project for a fish stall in Ustka (a small town by the sea). The author designed the whole alphabet (called, I guess, “Fish from Ustka”), with marketing slogans playing on communist slogans.
And this is another branding project for a shoe-maker. The old-fashioned job fits well the old-fashioned typographic look.
And another interesting part (that we failed to photograph, apparently, but maybe you can see something in this through-the-window shot below?) was a set of re-created alphabets based on letters taken from old surviving signs, a sort of exercise in both inspiration and conservation.