Warsaw is renowned for its fine art heritage. Poland’s cultural epicentre has enjoyed a real upsurge in the popularity of its contemporary art. With visitors drawn to this iridescent ‘underground’ art scene, new galleries are springing up on a regular basis.
Warsaw is a city on the rise both culturally and economically. The upturn in Warsaw’s fortunes after the fall of communism has seen a windfall in commercial galleries dedicated to showcasing work by Poland’s younger generation of artists. Spread far and wide across both sides of the Vistula, a whole host of sleek, stylish gallery spaces has emerged, ranging from large, well-publicised profit driven entities to small, low-profile underground pop-ups.
There really has never been a better time to immerse oneself in Warsaw’s vibrant art scene, and to guide one through this plethora of possibilities, what follows is a carefully curated selection of some of Warsaw’s best galleries, composed of exhibitions featuring art from a broad palette of eras and movements.
On the East side of the river, Praga, with its gritty post-industrial aesthetic, has fast become a hot-spot for cool creative start-ups. A renovated pre-war industrial building, Soho Factory was once used to house weapons and later manufacture motorbikes. However, in 2010 work began on revitalising a building that was sorely in need of a full-scale makeover. Today, the factory is a multi-use arts space housing contemporary art galleries and boutique design outlets as well as playing host to a regular billing of educational workshops, performance art exhibitions and music concerts. Also located outside on the central lawn are several hammocks offering visitors the chance to unwind, a glass of wine in hand, after a long day spent consuming culture.
Soho Development S.A. Mińska 25
Galeria Grafiki I Plakatu
First founded in 1976, the Galeria Grafiki I Plakatu (Graphic Art and Poster Gallery) showcases the works of Poland’s collective of talented graphic artists. Expanding in more recent years to encompass the history of the Polish Poster School, past exhibitions include displays by the school’s most celebrated alumni – the ‘Poster Boy’ poster designer Jan Mlodozeniec. Known for designing the poster for Once Upon A Time In America, recent exhibitions have also included a retrospective of designs for the films of the late Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda.
Running with the film theme, whilst the Fotoplastikon may not technically be an art gallery it is, however, something of a picture gallery which largely shows photos of old Warsaw from decades past. For those not already familiar with the device, a Fotoplastikon is essentially a 3D peep show of stereoscopic images housed within a giant rotating cylinder, with viewers able to peer at these images through viewfinders. Invented in Germany in the mid-19th century, this current contraption first opened in 1905 and was reputedly a popular meeting place for dissidents. Run by the original owner’s grandson, Fotoplastikon remains a favoured hangout for Warsaw’s cultural aesthetes.
Al. Jerozolimskie 51
Galeria Le Guern
Back on the eastern side of the river, a short walk from its banks along an unassuming, tree-lined residential street is the pristine ‘white cube’ space of Galeria Le Guern. With its core curatorial focus being on displaying the work of emerging Polish artists, the gallery contains work that covers the gamut of visual media, from painting to performance art. Situated a mere sickle’s throw away from the imposing, Soviet-era Palace of Culture and Science, Le Guern is a joyously perverse avant-garde gallery showcasing work by the capital’s most talented experimental artists.
Located somewhat unusually within an abandoned, century-old fort some distance from the city centre, Galeria Forty is a site frequented most often by savvy art enthusiasts or intrepid travellers. Once run by the Outdoor Art Foundation before the funding dried up, this unconventional gallery space is housed within the impenetrable walls of the Northern Barracks building and now lies in semi-ruin. Displaying art by some of Poland’s most admired street artists including Pantonia and NeSpoon, unusually, each artist was initially allocated one room of the barracks which they could paint as they pleased.
Popular with the city’s erudite aesthetes, Lokal 30 began life in a pokey Warsaw apartment. Having relocated in 2003, the gallery has since expanded considerably; a broad variety of performances and artist discussions are held here, while the curatorial preference is for endorsing contemporary installation and video art pieces. Check online for opening times.
Wilkcza 29A/12 (5th Floor)
Another of Warsaw’s anarchistic, avant-garde playgrounds, Kordegarda is run by the National Centre for Culture and features a slightly giddy cocktail of experimental artworks that sit somewhat incongruously alongside more traditional pieces. Also functioning as a key meeting place for artists, Kordegarda hosts a year-round stream of in-conversation events, workshops and concerts. Housed within the grand, Romanesque Ministry of Culture and Heritage, the old and new are displayed in the gallery side-by-side on equal terms, leaving it up to the general public to judge them how they see fit.
Krakowskie Przedmieście 15/17
Founded in 1966 during a time of widespread cultural upheaval, the gallery’s principal remit is to showcase work by radical contemporary artists, with such leading lights of the Polish art scene as Edward Krasiński having been displayed within its walls. Hidden away within a small annexe to the Zamoyski Palace, the gallery’s interior is in fact designed by several of the nation’s exhibiting artists, with its cabinets, bookshelves and chairs all tailored especially to suit their environs. Notably, Foksal is also run by the artists themselves and provides a space which exists beyond the bounds of the commercial art market.