The history of the Polish poster in the Communist era is certainly familiar and widely appreciated. The story of the modern Polish film poster began in the 1940s and the medium remained strong for several decades. Czech film posters flourished for a relatively short time under Communism; the best in the modern style were created from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, after which there was a falling-off. In each country, editors at enlightened commissioning organizations — in Czechoslovakia the Central Film Distribution Agency — encouraged committed poster artists, who were often also fine artists, to do exceptional work.
For me, Czech film posters, considered as a school, have the edge over Polish film posters — I readily concede that it’s a close run thing. As is often remarked, Polish posters tend to be painterly and pictorial, though there are brilliant exceptions such as the work of Roman Cieslewicz, already a master of photo-collage in the late 1950s. The Czech poster artists were a little slower to discover photo-collage, but they soon made the technique their own in bravura feats of design that fuse collage, photo-collage, montage, hand-drawn and painted elements, and exuberantly playful lettering and type — often in the same image.
We now have a chance to make close comparisons between Czech and Polish film posters. Since 2005, a collector in Prague named Pavel Rajčan has amassed 10,000 Czech film posters, many for sale through his Terry Posters website; he also has 1,500 Polish posters. Rajčan isn’t the only dealer in Czech posters to be found online, but he is certainly the most active, image-conscious and visible. I visited him and his collection at the Kino Svetozor arthouse cinema in Prague last year while working on my exhibition and it’s a highly organized operation. To date, Rajčan — a man who clearly doesn’t sit on his hands — has put together around 70 exhibitions based on his collection. The latest show, Confrontation, at the Museum of Cinematography in Lodz in Poland (until the end of January), compares Czech and Polish versions of posters designed by different artists for the same films.