One ticket for this time capsule, please!" - asked a lady, waiting with me in a small queue. Indeed, every visit to Warsaw's Neon Museum is a kind of time travel. Here one can turn back in time to glorious times of Polish design, the 1960s & the 1970s, probably the most colorful period in Warsaw history. For 2.5 Euro only!
Neon became popular forms of advertisement in Warsaw during the interwar period, but almost all of them were destroyed during the war. Their renaissance begun after 1956, after political thaw. So called “neonisation” of Warsaw was a political decision: neon were to be put on the biggest, state-owned shops, cinemas, restaurants etc.
Two streets, rebuilt after the war in modernistic or socrealistic way, where chosen to be covered by neon in most spectacular way: Marszałkowska and Puławska. People behind this idea were Eleonora Sekrecka and Zygmunt Stępiński, architects that played important role in rebuilding Warsaw after 1945. They opposed many of socrealistic concepts, based strictly on Soviet architecture. The designs of Warsaw new neon ads were based mostly on advertisements from Paris and London.
“Neonisation” was controlled by a special body and these ads were made at first by state owned design bureaus and cooperatives. That’s why most of them have high artistic value and unique design. But collecting all of required agreements and decisions, allowing one to put neon over a building, was kind a bureaucratic nightmare.
At the beginning of "neonisation" the quality of advertisements was also not good. For example neon of Warszawa Główna, on former Warsaw Main Station building, was often broken and the letter “ł” was not visible. This changed the name of the station into Warszawa Gówna, literally “Warsaw of shit”. To prevent mishaps like this special, “neon emergency” was created – its staff repaired neon in Warsaw 24h a day. Advertisements were designed by renowned artisans and artists, period from late 1960’s and 1970’s are thought to be a “neon era” in Warsaw history.
Decline and reviwal
The decline started in late 1970s, when economic crisis and electric energy shortages forced public companies to shut down most of the ads. After 1989 private business found more cost-effective ways to advertise (ugly and omnipresent billboards, LED ads etc.), and many still existing neon were destroyed or removed. Only lately some of them, on a wave of interest in 1960’s design and architecture, were taken back to life and became old-new symbols of Warsaw districts. Neon Museum played it part in this interesting process.
The museum is a private project, opened in 2012 by an artist and photographer Ilona Karwińska. She started the collection in 2005 and since then gathered more than 200 pieces of neon advertisements. Most of them were saved from destruction, and now they are being repaired. The oldest neon preserved in Neon Museum are from middle 1950’s, the bulk is from 1960 and 1970.
How to get there?
Neon Museum is placed in SOHO Factory, in southern Praga district, on right bank of Vistula River.
Adress: Building 55, SOHO Factory, ul. Mińska 25, Warsaw.
Opened: from Wednesday to Sunday, 12.00 - 17.00.
Ticket price is just 10 pln.