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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.

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Yes, we’re back. We came back in the middle of the mess our renovations are still causing and it was also the end of the semester, which meant grading, so yep, in short we missed an update – sorry! However, it’s time for the traditional round of “The Books We Bought While Away.” This time, though, it’s going to be a short round, guys.

Truth of the matter is, we bought exactly two books. (We saw a few other interesting things but we ended up ordering them on Amazon afterwards. We’ll share when they arrive.) The first one was the kind we always buy instead of postcards and other souvenirs: a pop-up illustrated panorama. You saw them before on our blog and here’s the Berlin edition:

Illustrations by Sarah McMenemy.

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One of the few attractions we actually managed to see (but not the most exciting one).

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We only saw Alexanderplatz through the train’s window.

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But we did get to walk through a huge part of the Tiergarten.

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And another book we bought was actually a gift for our son and it quite enchanted us. It’s a small picture book about a mouse and a hedgehog who live in a garden and grown different plants. It’s printed with water paints on eco-carton, which we condone wholeheartedly, and it’s a lot of fun.

The toys come from our home collection. J has a lot of hedgehogs because of his name and he really loves rodents so the characters in the book were already a good match.

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Our school German is virtually non-existent but it suffices to read this book.

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The paper is naturally gray so that white elements have to be printed onto it and it gives the book a pleasant, natural, a little old-fashioned feeling.

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And that’s it, not the most fruitful trip in this respect but we were spending a lot of time at the conference and the only exciting bookstore we found in the city was closed for a national holiday.

We wrote more about Typo Berlin here, should you be interested for some reason.

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Taking advantage of probably one of the last sunny, warm weekends of the year we went on another spontateous family trip to the zoo. It was quite a lovely afternoon and we enjoyed the sight of the animals – so much so that we decided to share with you some of the memories as illustrations of animals (rather than working on the originally planned post; nothing beats pictures of animals anyways, as is universally acknowledged).

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As promised, today we want to share a few wonderful books we found in Paris. We spent a lot of time in museum bookstores and, as if that wasn’t enough to run out of money, we lived near a wonderful little bookstore specializing in art books and children books. I’m sure it was put there specifically to bankrupt us and it nearly did. But our collection grew again. In the post we will show you a few more French finds of our stay.

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As usual we enlarged our collection of Petit pop-up Panoramiques, which we keep showing you every time. In addition to Paris and Louvre, which we already had, this time we found the whole of France compressed into a small book of pop-ups. This one has more painterly, delicate illustrations than other books in the series, less humorous and more fashion-like, which we find refreshing. It also has so many places we’ve yet to see.

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In Musée d’Orsay’s bookstore we found a whimsical and quite charming comic Moderne Olympia, a story of Manet’s Olympia and her ambitions to become an actress. We haven’t read the whole story yet (our French might not be enough to get all the jokes, sadly) but the most lovely idea is that the story happens among famous pictures from the museum. Various scenes and characters are recreated from the paintings but, of course, in a different context. This is the kind of illustrative and intellectual fun that we always look for in art books and only sometimes manage to find.

re-paris-02 re-paris-03 re-paris-04And if one is not quite an art history expert the code at the last page is supposed to give you a list of all the paintings used in the story (we haven’t tested that yet but it’s certainly a good idea).

re-paris-10Now, I’ll admit at first sight I overlooked Romance. But once you give this book a few minutes of your time and take care to understand its concept, it’s quite breathtaking. It’s an entirely fresh experiment in storytelling, married with gorgeous illustrations and impressive technical savoir-faire (heh).

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The story expands from chapter to chapter and invites you to participate in telling it. Illustrations, words, even typography combine to add to the history, which makes it incredibly intriguing. It’s like a fairy tale that you heard million times as a child but always managed to find something new in it.

Additionally, and this is explained by the fact that the author has a silkscreen experience, it employes a neat technical trick. All the colors are special colors instead of regular CMYK and four special colors – applied with amazing understanding of how halftone works – create the whole color scheme of the book, including all the tints. This might not seem very exciting if you don’t think about the technical side of printing much but for us it was quite awe-inspiring.

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And finally our possibly favorite new acquisition, Oh! Mon chapeau. You certainly noticed the little fact that we are suckers for pop-up books but more often than not we are disappointed to find them matched with bland illustrations and lacking in creativity. None of this applies to Chapeau. It’s as creative as books get, with a wonderful understanding of what pop-ups can add to the story (for instance, it uses very well the simple fact that something can hide behind a pop-up). The illustrations (as, if fact, the whole technical part of the book) are deceptively simple but it’s rare to see simplicity matched with such charm and lightness. Many illustrators try to achieve it as it is, clearly, a trend of today but few manage in such a seemingly effortless way.

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In addition to the lovely Mondrianesque color scheme, the book has a difficult to define Parisian feel. Instant love.

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Last weekend we went to Warsaw to a Patti Smith concert (and yes, she rocked) and used the opportunity to visit the exhibition of the International Poster Biennale in Wilanów. Having seen at least the last six exhibitions, we feel we have a decent sense of the direction the competition is taking and, unfortunately, we didn’t love this year’s selection. Of course, there were glorious exceptions and we’ll show you a couple below but, in general, the selected group of works felt very uniform and not in a good way.

Most of the posters, especially the ones you see right after entering, shared a few characteristics: a messy all-over-the-place composition, often-pointless typographic games and, worst of all, a general lack of ingenious ideas. This goes against what we usually like in poster design, hence our disappointment. While the previous exhibitions showed enough variance to satisfy all kinds of taste, this year we felt most of the posters were similar and attacked us with their joyful chaos without satisfying our craving for smart ideas and clear design. I guess most of the jury shared similar taste, more so than during previous editions, and a little different from ours.

Enough complaining. Obviously, we also found a few great works and these are the ones we’d like to share. Disclaimer: we certainly missed a few interesting things (as well as the whole student selection) so just because something doesn’t appear here, it doesn’t mean we didn’t like it.

dmitry-mirilenko-majakowskiThis series of posters by Dmitri Mirilenko about Mayakovsky won a third prize (one of three) and we feel it could’ve won more. Seeing as this kind of dispersed typographic composition dominated this year’s selection, and was not always used successfully, we really appreciate how in these posters it’s made to click. This works in a somewhat abstract, but legible, way appropriate for the work of an avant-garde poet and we appreciate this kind of thinking. Also, the trend is made to work for the subject matter not against it.

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Among a multitude of posters which were based on filling the space with many elements (and all looked so similar), this was the only one that really stood out for us because it shows that the author controls the chaos up to every little detail (which makes it anti-chaos?). Also, it has an idea, simple as it is (young=egg), and – last but not least – it’s very pretty. This one is by Yanting Chen.

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A Polish accent, a poster by Ryszard Kaja. We appreciate this one because sometimes designers who were very strong when the Polish School of Posters dominated don’t fit in so well with newer aesthetics but not so in this case. (Also, during the last biennale Kaja charmed us with his series of posters for various regions of Poland, check them out some time.)

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Currently we’re spending way too much time on material typography so obviously we picked out all the posters which also used it and pretty lovely examples these are. The first one by Philippe Apeloig, with a nice nod to modernism and an impressive control over his medium.

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Two posters (which may or may not be our favorites of the whole exhibition) by Ariene Spanier. Nice use of materials to reflect the subject matter and great ideas.

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One more Polish accent, The Cherry Orchard poster by Homework. We’ve been fans of their minimalism for quite a while now and we add this one to the list of their posters we love.

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Finally, a couple of posters that focus on ideas rather than just playing with form. A tribute to Malevich by Youri Toreev, with a nod to the black square.

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And a poster by our friend Anita Wasik for a yearly edition of a festival of street art. This one is a continuation of her previous poster for the festival, which we love dearly and which looks like this:

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However, we’ve yet to see a poster whose joy value would equal feeding squirrels in the park, which we did after we saw the posters. So, we’ll leave you with this happy picture to wish you a good week.

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