The latest exhibition at the Museum of Warsaw explores the decade on which modern Poland was built…
Locked for nearly half a century behind an Iron Curtain, Poland’s political transformation plunged the country head first into a bewildering world of capitalism, contrast, chaos and color.
Marked by its sense of unrestrained adventure, the Museum of Warsaw’s latest exhibition recalls in vivid detail the intrigues and the mayhem of the 1990s.
Titled Gloss, Matte, Color, the exhibition’s name is taken from the question that snappers would invariably face when taking their camera roll to be developed.
This alone was something of a novelty – for decades, black-and-white had dominated and this shift to color could itself be interpreted to serve as a metaphor for the capital’s own abrupt (r)evolution.
At a stroke, the monochromatic gloom of Warsaw found itself lifted, replaced instead by a world of risk and opportunity. Separated into different themes, the collection’s 1,000 photographs chart varying chapters of the city’s story to offer a textured, warts and all retrospective of the good, the bad and the ugly.
The poverty experienced by those on the fringes of society is laid bare by jarring images of addicts, alcoholics, vagrants and the forgotten. We are introduced, also, to a time of protest with images of striking miners, rioting students and rallying women all prominently displayed.
There is excitement, as well – boldly venturing into the commercial world, we are reminded just how much of Warsaw became an open-air market; and amid the sea of billboards and tacky stalls, we see how the first modern towers arose from scratch.
Shot by some of the leading photographers of the era (including Chris Niedenthal, Tadeusz Rolke and Edward Hartwig), these are photographs that take you deep into the city’s schizophrenic mind.
Working on different levels, neither is there any shortage of ‘remember that’ moments – Michael Jackson is pictured walking on Pl. Konstytucji, Queen Elizabeth II is shown submerged under crowds in the Old Town, and Pope John Paul II is depicted travelling down Ząbkowska in his popemobile. It is, however, the anonymous portraits of the everyman that are the most provocative.
A period of garish, gaudy greed there are simultaneously several moments that elicit amusement, not least the photos that feature Cricoland, a tawdry theme park that stood on Pl. Defilad.
Featuring also several amateur contributions, it’s an exhibition that dives into the decade and brings it vividly back to life in all of its vibrant hues.
Gloss, Matte, Color
Ongoing until February 19th, 2023
Museum of Warsaw
Rynek Starego Miasto 32, website