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As our focus drifts now a little to babies (and as we did some huge bookshelf cleaning recently), we remembered one of the first artsy books that our son liked: ABC by Bruno Munari. Bruno Munari was quite a fascinating Italian artist and children’s books were just a small part of his wide artistic and scientific explorations – but it’s the one we’re most familiar with. ABC is a classic letters primer, which uses very elegant, high-contrast typography and lovely, slightly old-fashioned illustrations. While this might not be a book in which you find new tiny details during each re-reading, its very simplicity appeals to children and its high aesthetic level develops their sensitivity.

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This is one gorgeous onion.

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Last time we talked about the huge Wyspiański exhibition we saw in Kraków and how impressed we were by the number of exhibits. But because of a mess of circumstances we didn’t get to spend as much time on the exhibition as we wanted to so we were glad to find a large, reliable catalog, presenting all the objects with descriptions.

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(We don’t necessarily agree with all the design choices made for the catalog but we don’t know how it was created and under what circumstances. We’re mostly just happy to have such a huge, nicely printed book full of Wyspiański’s work.)

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This week we went on a somewhat eventful trip to Kraków, where we visited a large exhibition of works by Stanisław Wyspiański.

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Wyspiański (1869–1907) is one of the most brilliant Polish writers who also created wonderful art in different genres, particularly pastels. But the exhibition in Kraków focuses more on his ventures into applied arts, which makes it particularly interesting as he dabbled in pretty much everything. He designed theater costumes, furniture and particularly elements of large-scale interior decoration (including stained glass windows) for churches.

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A kids lesson about designing and creating stained glass windows.

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Wyspiański was impressively good at drawings resembling Gothic paintings on stained glass.

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The exhibition is discreetly but adeptly designed. Here a little ornamental decoration presumably drawn from Wyspiański’s work.

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The exhibition shows not only the finished products of his work but also preliminary stages – sketched, designs – which we found fascinating. It might have been too specialized for some visitors but we drank it up.

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One room shows better-known works: paintings and pastels,

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including this lovely drawing of a boy.

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Supposedly this furniture was meant to be uncomfortable so that the city council would not spend too long sitting in it.

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Fragment of staircase that we would totally have in our place. It wouldn’t match anything but who cares.

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We fully recommend seeing this extensive collection, should you happen to be in Kraków one of these months.

Last week we took J to an exhibition in Sopot that shows three Japanese poster designers. He didn’t seem much awed by those masters but we were, and so we’re sharing with you some highlights. (Note: the gallery didn’t allow for photos in the exhibition so all the images are internet-derived.)

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We were definitely most impressed by Ikko Tanaka, who started his long career in Tokyo and worked for many institutions and corporations. We knew some of his work, mostly the posters based on illustrations of  faces, but seeing many posters displayed together allowed us to admire the style he developed. He combined modernist love for geometricization with a sensitivity to the Japanese tradition of woodcut and illustration. He also managed to make these posters very decorative with the choice of color and with a really good sense of how to use simplification to create attractive forms.

Tanaka’s famous face posters: on the left the most well-known one. These show his mastery of simple forms and colors.

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Tanaka’s geometricized natural forms form the possibly most accessible part of his work.

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The second designer, Yusaku Kamekura, is probably the most revered one, and slightly older than the other two. He also combined Western inspirations with Japanese tradition but in a less consistent way: he used different techniques, geometric, painterly, even photographic. He’s most famous work is probably that related to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

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There is something very decorative and ornamental about many of Kamekura’s posters.

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And the third one, Shigeo Fukuda, differs a bit. He didn’t seem that inspired by either modernism nor Japanese traditional art but instead sought surrealist metaphors and visual illusions. While we like his ideas, the style speaks to us the least, reminding us of some later Polish poster designers we don’t necessarily enjoy as much.

Fukuda returned many times to the same motifs, like the folded piece of paper…

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…or the most charming one, an Escherian dachshund.

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In addition to the very interesting poster exhibition, the gallery also held two more typically art exhibitions: one of Polish painting (mostly from 19th and early 20th century) and one of contemporary art inspired by a Polish modernist sculptor, Katarzyna Kobro. These excited our son more, particularly the projector used for one of the modern exhibits.

A most impressive painting by Weiss, showing school girls on a walk in Kraków. We were awed by the subtle color palette and the photographic composition, particularly that not all of Weiss’s work is equally exiciting.

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Speaking of dachshunds (?), a charming pastel sketch by one of our favorites, Stanisław Wyspiański.

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A variation on a medieval illumination turned into a fairy tale by Zbigniew Waliszewski (“The Hunt”).

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From the modern art exhibition something right up our valley, a typographic installation by Aurelia Mandziuk-Zajączkowska. Letterforms inspired by Polish modernism.

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And this is Kobro’s work, a nude.

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