During the 5th World Festival of Youth and Students, an international event in August 1955 that attracted youth from both sides of the Iron Curtain and from the global south to the Polish People’s Republic, the streets of Warsaw were adorned with colourful flags and enormous friezes with vociferous anti-war declarations, images of doves and other symbols of the post-war peace movement. On ul. Marszałkowska, architect Jerzy Hryniewiecki installed a range of billboard-sized images under the slogan “We demand the prohibition of nuclear weapons”, including Paul Colin’s poster Varsovie Accuse from 1947 and a copy of Picasso’s Guernica, slightly smaller than the original, painted by the Polish artist Wojciech Fangor. As a teenager, Fangor enjoyed the opportunity to view Guernica during its first public presentation at the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris World Exposition in 1937. Picasso’s painting, a protest against the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica in April 1937 by German military aircraft at the orders of General Francisco Franco, became an image with a fixed presence in the social imagination and public space, broadly commented on in the international media. Set amid the scenery of ruins that continued to dominate the Polish capital ten years after the end of World War II, Hryniewiecki’s frieze underscored the community of fate between the bombed Spanish town and Warsaw. According to reports from that time, other images from the series brought the prospect of catastrophe even closer to the present, alluding to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 and the then-recent Korean War. The bombing of Guernica was rightly indicated as a model of mass, industrialized, anonymous violence perpetrated against civilians in order to demoralize the survivors and accelerate their capitulation.
Wojciech Fangor (b. 1922, d. 2015 in Warsaw) – visual artist, painter and sculptor, co-founder of the Polish Poster School. He is recognized as one of the greats of 20th-century Polish art. Fangor began with Socialist Realism, but his painterly style witnessed numerous transformations in later periods. He secured a place in art history primarily as a forerunner and outstanding representative of abstract spatial painting based on optical illusion.