Perhaps not the most obvious tourist attraction in the Polish capital, Warsaw’s Neon Muzeum is a treat. It’s not just bright colours and extremely Instagrammable designs, but a remarkable story of urban art in the cold war Poland and the great neonisation campaign in what used to be the Eastern Bloc.
The museum stores and preserves neon signs mainly from the 60s and 70s, which – although fashionable now – were often left unwanted. Most were designed by famous artists but lots disappeared from the streets over time. You can now admire the collection in the historic factory SoHo in Praga, which in itself is an interesting neighbourhood to visit. It’s tempting to dive right in and explore the exhibition but don’t skip the information part – it paints a colourful background to the history behind the neons and the post-war Poland.
The museum came to life after its creator, photographer Ilona Karwinska, saved a neon sign decorating a store called Berlin in Warsaw. Eye-popping designs in Warsaw inspired her to start documenting the cold war signage and she travelled around Poland, collecting signs and taking photos, to then open the unusual museum.
What kind of signs can you find there? Anything you could find walking down the street in Warsaw in the 60s – shops, restaurants, libraries… And of course Warsaw’s mermaid.
One more thing…
Bringing neons back to life in Warsaw, the museum coorganised a competition which resulted in a brand new neon sign appearing on the Gdanski bridge. The giant ”Miło Cię widzieć” (Nice to see you) sign welcomes those walking down the Vistula bank.