Warsaw full of unique art, divided fans

Warsaw full of unique art, divided fans

Published Jun. 7, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

“For two years, all we’ve heard about was how this tournament was going to change Poland, and we’re sick of it!”

This dissenting view comes from Anna Theiss, and it is delivered with a smile. On the night before the Euros kick off, Ms. Theiss, who runs PosterPolex, is displaying a small exhibition of work based on the European Championship.

(For images from the exhibit and photos from across the Euros this summer, check out our Instagram feed at jamietrecker.)

It’s a very small exhibit, only three posters, which befits the quirky space she’s showing at: “Male Piwo,” which in Polish means “small beer.”


“As you can see, some of our artists chose to focus on the masculine nature of the sport,” says Theiss, pointing to a poster that is, let’s say, gender specific. But the others are wry: one depicts a tiny player, stretching to head a ball – which is a blue marble in the distance. Another shows a man with a single long leg, looping over his head and back around, with no ball in sight.

Warsaw has a very long history of art with this absurdist strain; to those of us in the West it seemed a natural reaction to the brutal weather and the nonsensical indignities forced on Poles by the Soviet occupation.

Many of the displays and exhibits I have stumbled across have meanings we can only guess at. When I commented on the rather lovely collection of scales at one performance space, I was told that scales were all Soviet shops had – you could weigh anything you wanted because there was nothing to buy. This was, in fact, a witty comment on “nothing.”

But the wit that Theiss and her artists are purveying isn’t always in evidence when it comes to soccer.

In another section of the newly-hip but rather scrappy Praga district, I’m confronted by three burly Legia Warsaw fans. They discover I am a foreign journalist and subsequently insist that my translator tell me that they “are not all racist and Nazis.” They are smarting from coverage of the team’s infamous call for jihad during the Europa League against Hapoel Tel Aviv. My translator, Lukasz Figiel, tells me it is wise to stay neutral on such matters. I do.

As I leave, the fans flash a sign that looks to my American eyes like the symbol for “loser.” Is it a comment on me? No: it is in fact the “L” of Legia.

Walking to another gallery, he tells me that when Pope John Paul II died, the warring fans — Legia, Wisla Krakow, others — tried to forge a truce for the good of the nation. “It lasted maybe a week,” muses my host. “I wonder how they will all stand together on the terraces for Poland on Friday, Wisla and Legia. I don’t know if they can.”

That’s truly absurd.