Friday, 8:04am
16 July 2010

Mirror man

john l. walters
the events department
Design history
Graphic design
Visual culture

Roman Cieślewicz shouts, entertains and provokes from the gallery walls

If you see just one design exhibition this summer, make it the Roman Cieślewicz retrospective at the RCA’s Gulbenkian Galleries, writes John L Walters. And see it soon, because it comes to an end in just over three weeks, on Saturday 7 August.

It is a moving and exhilarating show, packed with work and beautifully staged and curated by David Crowley, Andrzej Klimowski, Jeff Willis (RCA) and Anna Grabowska-Konwent (pictured below, left, with Chantal Petit, Cieślewicz’s widow) of the National Museum in Poznań.


Andrzej crop

At last night’s private view, Klimowski (above) told us that Cieślewicz’s native Poland is a country where the graphic designer is taken seriously – seen on a par with writers, film-makers and theatre directors, and collaborating with them as an equal. When Cieślewicz moved to Paris in 1963 he continued to work in this way; Klimowski cited his poster for Roman Polanski’s famous production of Amadeus (below left).




There are more than 150 exhibits, which makes for a heady visual experience, quite unlike the kind of art show where you see the same language repeated over and over again with small variations.

You see the famous Cieślewicz posters, sure, including the ones for Katastrofa and Vertigo (see Preview in Eye 76), but there are collages, magazine covers and fashion spreads, visual experiments such as the ‘mirror’ pieces (top) and animations. Some of the work is reproduced directly on pillars and walls, which adds to the drama of the display.

Cieślewicz held a mirror to humanity that’s as sharp and clear and inspiring as any fine artist or writer of his generation, while making unequivocal graphic design – functional, ephemeral, mass-produced … bloody marvellous.

We’ll post more (and better) images later. There’s also a handsome, large-format 24-page catalogue (below) with texts by Klimowski and Crowley.



Entry is free, and but unfortunately the show is only on for three weeks, so let me restate that opening sentence. If you see just one exhibition of any kind this summer, make it this one. (Go on your way to the park, or a Prom.) This is graphic design that (without losing any vitality or directness as genuine graphic design) murmurs, shouts, screams, entertains and provokes from the gallery wall.

Roman Cieślewicz retrospective
16 July - 7 August
MON-SAT 11am - 7pm (16 July 11am - 5.30 PM)
Royal College of Art
Gulbenkian Galleries
Kensington Gore
London SW7 2EU

Margo Rouard-Snowman’s ‘Reputations’ interview with Cieślewicz in Eye no. 9 (cover below with Cieślewicz’s Godard) is now available online,

Eye: Volume 03, Issue 09

Eye magazine is available from all good design bookshops and at the online Eye shop, where you can order subscriptions, single issues and back issues. The summer issue, Eye 76, out today, is a music special. You can read a selection of pages on Eye Before You Buy on Issuu.

Student subscriptions are half price, see