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Light Designers Exhibition



The women creators of Warsaw’s neon signs.

 Warsaw was a city illuminated by thousands of neon signs. Today, we treat the preserved neon signs as works of art, although knowledge of the creators – especially women – behind these magnificent illuminated designs is limited. The Neon Muzeum is organising the first exhibition in Poland dedicated to outstanding female designers of Warsaw's neon signs.

 The old neon signs are stunning in their shapes and letterforms – on the one hand interesting, free-flowing, and on the other hand tailored to buildings and specific locations.  This is no coincidence – the process of creating neon signs was very structured; each advertisement had to be officially approved.  Therefore, the process of creating neon signs – from commission to production – could take 2-3 years.

 “Today, historical neon signs are treated as works of art.  Deservedly so – there purpose was to beautify and illuminate the city. Graphic artists, visual artists and even architects were commissioned to design them.  Suffice to say, there were a few well-known and indeed famous names: Maksymilian Krzyżanowski, Zbigniew Labes, Tadeusz Rogowski or Jan Mucharski.  The case is different with women who have so far remained anonymous – by organising the 'Women Designers of Light' exhibition, we endeavour to illuminate the names and memory of the female creators of Warsaw's neon signs.  By promoting knowledge about neon signs, we also want to contribute to the public discourse on how the city space should look.” says Ilona Karwińska, director of the Neon Muzeum.

 “Women Designers of Light” will be the first exhibition in Poland to present neon advertising designs by women.  Visitors will have the opportunity to become acquainted with the profiles of prominent female designers – through their archival neon projects and interviews.  The exhibition will present, in particular, the neon works of Magdalena Byczyńska, Krystyna Kołodziej, Zofia Kostecka, Wiesława Łobos and Ewa Ryllowa.

 The inauguration of the exhibition will be on the 21st November, but some of the exhibits are already part of the Neon Muzeum's permanent exhibition, which currently comprises around 250 unique artefacts. Information for the exhibition was prepared by Karolina Sulej – journalist, reportage, populariser of fashion anthropology, and author of award-winning publications. The exhibition is possible thanks to the support of the Capital City of Warsaw.

 “Neon signs, unlike in modern times, were part of the central planning of urban spaces.  Involving people with great expertise was a guarantee of high quality and interesting projects.  In fact, in many cases, the only limitation was the imagination of the designers – one such example is the iconic neon ‘hedgehog’, a sphere composed of glass tubes, which Magdalena Byczyńska designed for a fur shop on Świętokrzyska Street.  This design and photographs will be on display.” says Ilona Karwińska.

 The Neon Muzeum has been located in Warsaw's Kamionek district since 2012.  Its founders are Ilona Karwińska and David Hill – who have been carrying out the project of protecting and documenting historical advertisements for 18 years.  The facility is a ‘second home’ for historical old neon signs – mainly from Warsaw – which can no longer remain in the locations they were designed for.  The museum is actively involved in educational projects (lessons for schools as part of the Government’s “Get to know Poland” programme) or popularising knowledge of historical neon signs and good advertising design processes through book publications, and our ‘Action-Renovation’ campaign, which sees rare neon signs restored or reconstructed. The museum also held a competition for a new neon symbol for Warsaw, culminating in the “Nice to See You” neon sign on the Gdańsk Bridge. 

 The latest activity saw the restoration of the red Cepelia “Rooster” neon sign on ul. Grzybowska – designed by Krystyna Kołodziej. Over the past few years, the Neon Muzeum has become a popular spot on the tourist map of the capital.  It has also served as the backdrop for music videos or as an element of Warsaw's and Poland's promotion abroad.

Witold Urbanowicz
Muzeum Press Officer