Anoter place on the map of Warsaw that did not escape my attention was the Neon Museum (Muzeum Neonów) located at the Soho Factory, Mińska 25 street in Praga District, Warsaw. A warehouse turned into a gallery is most unique place to explore some of the quiet but visible history of the city.
Warsaw has been a city of neons for decades – from 1926 when first light installations appeared on buildings till the II World War, then through the darkness of years following the great destruction to the times of Communist oppression.
As written in “Gazeta Polska” in 1936 “The ‘evening lights’ are symbols of greatness of a city. The stronger, harder they burn […] – the stronger must be the rhythm of the city life. The same year Julian Tuwim, great Polish writer and a poet wrote a piece “Warsaw ablaze”:
“Up the floors, in colorful blaze letters glide
And an electric aurora burns among the night.
Ablaze! Let your splendor fly across the sky over Polish lands,
For poets become a lucent poem!
Look! Even the Vistula is amazed, when at evening
You pierce her with daggers of vibrant lights.” *
*translated by me.
Before the II World War there had been 70 neons, of which only a few made it through the though times. During early Communism an advertisement was an enemy of the state as a mark of the capitalist approach, therefore only some neons were allowed – the ones carrying information. Towards the end of 1950’s a plan of “neonisation” or “enlightenment” of Warsaw was introduced – from now on the city was supposed to become a capital of neons. Best architects and artists were issued to design streets full of blazing marketing and informational constructions.
As we read in a book by Zieliński and Tarwacka:
“That’s when the unique style of Warsaw advertisements, in which intricate, even humorous, graphic elements were joined with inscriptions in creative fonts, was born. Alongside printed letters were cursive letters in non-standard fonts invented by visual artists, composed so elaborately that they looked more like ornaments than “simple” writing. The fairy tale like beauty of the lettering arouses fascination even in connoisseurs in this field from the West […]”
Since I was a little girl and travelled around the city with my loving Babcia I was fascinated by the magic of those strange lights – not quite placed in any specific space or time. Just there. Just flashing. With my particular approach towards Social Realism in architecture I never felt disappointed or angry by the very existence of those installations. But as it often happens, neons were increasingly replaced with modern advertisements and my childhood, dreamy landscape started disappearing too quickly for a fleeting child’s memory to notice.
The trip to the Museum unlocked some of the things buried deep down in the shadows of my memory. Suddenly, I realized shapes of the places coming back to me, the almost-forgotten sentiments of times passed. It would be unfair to say the magic is completely gone from the vibrant landscape of Warsaw – it is still possible to observe some of the neons among the capital’s buildings. To get a better sense of the massive tradition of the city “ablaze” make your way to the Soho Factory in Praga District and delight yourself in the sea of colors.
For more references visit:
History of Warsaw Neons: Culture.pl on Warsaw Neons
Muzeum Neonów: Warsaw Neon Museum
“Neon” – a movie by Eric Bednarski: Eric Bednarski | NEON