Socialist Realism at Plac Konstytucji

OK, both HHE shipments are unpacked, we’re back from our strangely-timed trip to Denmark, and most of the rental fixtures and Drexel uglies have been camouflaged. Now I’m ready to blog about Warsaw!

I kind of have a thing about Socialist Realism. (I realize that is in part because I didn’t have to live through the idealogy behind it…) I don’t think it is one of the more sophisticated forms of art. It’s art for the people, really. A cartoonish type of utilitarian imagery that is meant to tell a story. Kind of like how medieval church frescoes and friezes, were similarly formulaic and simplified in order to communicate theology to the masses. Same method, different religion.

Nevertheless, the blockish architecture and big, solid figures appeal to me. And how can you not love artwork with titles like “Thank You Tractor Operator?”

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Plac Konstytucji (Constitution Square) is a few blocks from our apartment. I walk past it all the time, and have wondered about the enormous buildings with their massive sculptures. It turns out that the entire area was a postwar Socialist Realist architecture and arts project, designed to replace a much older neighborhood that was destroyed in the Warsaw Uprising.

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The expansive Plac itself was designed to accommodate state parades. So, that’s kind of awesome, from a historical perspective. In 1999, a campaign was launched to name the square after Ronald Reagan. This was very sweet, really, but I am personally glad it did not succeed.

Two buildings in particular stand out. They are enormous, matching complexes with arcades that face each other across Marshalkowska street. Sort of a socialist interpretation of a Greek marketplace. Or something like that.

One of the twin buildings. The far end has been sandblasted and renovated. The rest of it, not so much.
One of the twin buildings at 34/50 Marshalkowska. The far end has been sandblasted and renovated. The rest of it, not so much.

The sculptures are either big and clumsy (they are all wearing huge work boots) or imposing, depending on how you look at them. I think they are kind of cool.

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A very buff worker with a brick and trowel.
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A squarish sort of mother with a Lego baby.
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Dude with a scythe and some wheat.
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A miner, I believe. Note the disproportionately large hand. As in medieval artwork, it was more important to tell the story than to make the depiction perfectly accurate.
A very simplified version of Ionic columns.
A very simplified, blocky version of Ionic columns.
There is shopping center in the building selling upscale brands. Stalin is turning over in his grave.
There is shopping center in the building with upscale brands. Stalin is turning over in his grave.
The building is so huge that parts have not yet been renovated. This is an ex-bookstore.
The building is so huge that parts have not yet been renovated. This is an ex-bookstore. Graffiti is everywhere in Warsaw, pretty much. The fact that this building is covered with it doesn’t mean anything in particular.
The building on the other side of the street is more uniformly shabby.
The building on the other side of the street is more uniformly shabby, but also has shops, bars, and a movie theater.
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I am not sure, but I think this may be a cleaning lady? The grillwork on top of her is to keep pieces of the building from falling on people. It is commonly seen on old, unrenovated buildings in Europe.
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I am guessing a welder. Or a dinosaur dentist.
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A soldier? A mailman? Just a random guy with a lamp?
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A teacher and a happy, very muscular, socialist boy.
A bar, and yes that is a John Travolta on the window.
A movie-themed bar, and yes that is John Travolta on the window.

Whether you love or hate this style, it is definitely one of the things that make being posted to the former Eastern bloc interesting. Architecture here is a layer cake, from medieval to post-modern. Socialist realism is just one of the more distinctive layers!

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