Curator: Mária Rišková
Technical cooperation: Viera Burešová, Slovak Theatre Institute
The exhibition presents examples of original theatre posters from the Slovak Theatre Institute’s collections, produced since 1989. The selection is based on research conducted by Mária Rišková for her publication Slovak Theatre Poster after 1989 (Six Sense of Theatre), published by the Theatre Institute in 2009, as well as on research by the Theatre Institute’s curator Zuzana Koblišková.
Filtered through thousands of creative minds, posters acquired the reputation of an art form in their own right in the course of the 20th century. Taken out of its technological context, however, a poster is basically a painting, a genre with a much longer tradition. Contemporary theatre posters are characterized by a clash of abstract artistic devices which aim to represent ideas with advertising photos that serve the purpose of attracting the public. Theatre posters undoubtedly function as a powerful cultural agent by signalling that something is going on here and that this something has to do with culture. Theatre posters have also expressed certain ‘styles’, promoting appearances by the greatest stage stars of the 19th and 20th centuries. In terms of theatre posters Slovakia can boast some world-class artists.
The posters shown at this exhibition provide a record of a period when posters changed not only in technological but also artistic terms, as in addition to using symbols and allusions, posters increasingly turned to performance stills and portraits of star actors. The human body became an equally important component of theatre posters. Before the advent of the advertisement age posters tended to feature unspecific, abstract bodies representing not only characters but also ideas, reflecting the general trend in the visual arts. While the growing demand to feature specific actors in lead roles may meet the requirements of current marketing research, it robs the posters of abstract ideas, which once constituted their key aspect. If images of this kind are accompanied by dull typography, the posters lose their capacity to attract more discerning audiences. Physical space is another major theatre motif, and while set designers have a natural grasp of space, which makes them particularly apt at translating it into the two-dimensional space of the poster, other artists have also displayed original approaches to space. A “good” theatre poster uses symbols and treats them as something unique. This is linked to the theatrical artefact, which often takes the form of a symbol, characteristic of the symbolic theatre language, making it a popular motif for artists.
When we first encounter a theatre poster we are interested in finding out who the artist is and what is their relationship to the theatre world. This exhibition introduces graphic designers who have had a long-term involvement with the theatre as well as artists directly associated with the stage (set designers), presenting several generations of artists who have produced theatre posters since 1989. The foundations of theatre posters for brick-and-mortar theatres of the 1990s were laid by the older and middle generation of poster designers, known as the ‘old school’ because of their background in visual arts. The oldest generation is represented by Milan Veselý and Dušan Junek; graphic designers Vladislav Rostoka, Ľubomír Longauer, Jozef Dóka Jr. (along with Pavol Choma and Svetozár Mydlo). Having first attracted attention with their first joint exhibitions in the late 1970s, they belong to the strongest generation groups in Slovak visual arts in general. The two outstanding personalities in this generation are the set designers Ján Zavarský and Tomáš Berka, who have created a great many original works. We can observe the continuity of their long-term theatre poster work since many of them have remained associated with the same theatres as before the 1989 revolution (Tomáš Berka with New Stage Theatre, Dušan Junek with Studio S, Svetozár Mydlo with Radošinské naivné divadlo [The Naïve Theatre of Radošiná] and Jozef Dóka Jr. with the Ján Palárik Theatre in Trnava). Milan Veselý’s cooperation with the ASTORKA Korzo ’90 Theatre is particularly noteworthy. All these artists, for whom the poster is the “queen of graphic design”, treat their theatre posters as paintings whose shelf life is more than just a few days.
The artists who emerged in the 1990s have been more involved in the actual stage production than their older colleagues. A striking example is Emil Drličiak, who has been widely involved in theatre projects. Milan Mikula has focused mainly on independent and amateur theatre, while Rastislav Michalík and Matej Plekanec worked with two legendary alternative stages in the Bratislava of the 1990s, GUnaGU and STOKA. These artists turned to poster art in the middle of that decade, at the time when artists of the older generation were still active. What is typical for these younger artists, who include the first graduates of the newly established Department of Graphic Design at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava as well as stage design graduates of the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava, is a more intense engagement with their theatre colleagues. Meanwhile the number of set designers focusing on poster art has declined. They include Tom Ciller, who designed more than fifty posters for his own productions as well as for other stages. Members of this generation embarked on their professional careers at a time that offered greater opportunities for commercial work, and made good use of them. Having made their name in graphic design and set design many of them contributed to the development of an alternative culture.
The early 2000s saw the emergence of a new cohort of artists, mostly graduates of the Department of Graphic Design at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design (currently the Visual Communication Department). Their theatre work is usually done on commission or is linked to fringe projects (e. g. Marcel Benčík’s collaboration with the Stanica Žilina-Záriečie, a cultural centre) and often involves teamwork. The remarkable collection of photo-typo posters, created by designer Pavol Bálik in cooperation with photographer Filip Vančo for the Andrej Bagar Theatre in Nitra, shows that creative use of photography combined with high quality typography can result in works of art of lasting value.
What are the attributes of a “good” theatre poster – wit, emotion, complexity, a form appropriate to the specific production, a high standard of technical execution or informative value? What is considered to be the purpose of a theatre poster will dictate its specific features that, in turn, reflect many changes in society and style. Our exhibition of post-1989 Slovak Theatre Posters presents a plethora of poster forms, featuring works by several generations of artists. You are invited to come and discover the diversity of Slovak theatre hidden in images.