Neon Muzeum Warschau

David Hill and Ilona Karwinska are the creators and directors of the Neon Muzeum in Warsaw. In initiating the museum, they undertook the mission of documenting and preserving Poland’s cold war era neon signs. The project started in 2005 with a photographic documentation project titled ‘Polish Neon’, and in 2012 the museum opened its doors for to the public.

©Sebastian Weiß


The “electro-graphic objects” of that period are more than just ordinary and habitual elements of urban environments: neon madness was supposed to demonstrate the success of centralized trading and economical well-being in Poland. Yes, even if stores of the period were rather empty, their signs, which were often animated, impressed with visual richness and brilliance.

Thousands of meters of neon tubing were bound masterfully in the late fifties in Poland, resulting in cities competed in neon splendor. This form of urban visual communication caused a creative explosion among polish graphic designers, and Poland experienced an era of “neonization”. Elaborate and refined shapes, carefully selected colors—there is all this and more to see in the neon work of significant Polish “neonizers” such as Jan Mucharski, Witold Janowski and Janusz Rapnicki.

To help visualize the topic at hand, take a second to try to imagine soviet era bureaucrats approving sketches of giddy milk bar’s cows, pigs, elephants and more.

The starting point for David and Ilona’s neon fascination came when they salvaged otherwise neglected signs which were slated for destruction from the former DDR goods store “Berlin”, and returned them to their former glory.

The Neon Museum’s collection is continuously growing. Slower going, though, is the recognition that David and Ilona receive for the work that they have put into preserving the neglected signs. That said, neon design of the cold war era is now much more appreciated in Poland and the heritage value of the design is no longer in question.
Hill & Karwinska

Neon Muzeum Warsaw

The Neon Muzeum in Warsaw is dedicated to the documentation and preservation of Poland's cold war era neon signs. The sole creators and directors of the Neon Muzeum are David Hill and Ilona Karwinska. They built the foundations of the museum in 2005 with Ilona’s photographic documentation project entitled 'Polish Neon'. The preservation and renovation of the first cold war neon signs also began during this photographic project. The subject of Polish cold war neon was rapidly brought to greater public and media consciousness by numerous exhibitions and publications. The 'Polish Neon' exhibition travelled from London, Luxembourg, Amsterdam to Warsaw, and our efforts have resulted in a 'neon rennaisance'.

The Neon Museum is a private initiative, based on passion and enthusiasm, and it doesn’t receive public funds. Instead it relies on the public’s support via donations or just volunteer work.

Given the amount of work and attention to detail that has gone into it, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Neon Museum hosted over 16,000 visitors during Warsaw’s Museum Nights in 2013.

Text: Aleksandra Samulenkova, LucasFonts