Bringing together the high and the low, the unique and the ordinary, the local and the international. Warsaw is a European capital boasting a rich social, cultural, and artistic life, with its art scene bridging the gap between the historical and the contemporary as well as between Polish and European identities. Join us for a fascinating walk through Warsaw’s most dazzling museums and galleries.
In Polish, “zachęta” stands for “encouragement” – a fact not surprising considering that the majestic building housing the gallery is, in itself, incredibly inviting. So is, of course, the interior featuring 20th and 21st century art – a collection of more than 3500 artworks including temporarily exhibited pieces by such iconic Polish artists as Tadeusz Kantor, Henryk Stażewski, Alina Szapocznikow, Zbigniew Libera and Wilhelm Sasnal. A collective exhibition currently on show – “Change the Setting. Polish Theatrical and Set Design of the 20th and 21st centuries” – calls on the theater as a fine-tuned instrument registering socio-cultural transformations. At Zachęta, artistic genres blend and morph in ways beautiful and fitting, serving a true feast for the senses!
While impatiently awaiting the completion of the Museum of Modern Art new building, make sure you pay regular visits to its temporary location in the vicinity of the Vistula river. An unassuming pavilion features exhibitions where art continues to touch upon thorny social and political issues. Currently on show is the exhibit commemorating the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of WW2 titled “Never Again. Art against War and Fascism in the 20th and 21st centuries”. One of its main elements is “Guernica” – Pablo Picasso’s famous anti-war piece from 1937. After a soul-nourishing visit, head to the museum bookstore and then enjoy some earthly pleasures in Paloma nad Wisłą – a neighboring restaurant with a breathtaking interior and delicious menu.
So much to see here! If it’s your first time visiting the museum, you should definitely read about and see current temporary exhibitions. Presently, the museum holds “Visible Invisible”, an exhibit of 134 paintings from the museum archives, including works by Zdzisław Beksiński, Roman Opałka, and Tamara Łempicka. In addition, graphic art by Bruegel and Rembrandt is being exhibited in commemoration of death anniversaries of the two master painters and a large-scale exposition “Splendour and Finesse. Spirit and Substance in Korean Art” is being held through mid-January. The permanent exhibition is very rich, so we recommend discovering it step by step or visit by visit if you will. Make sure you go to the Gallery of Polish Design – a must-see full of Polish design gems!
photo: The Poster Museum
What is a must-see for poster enthusiasts is also a required visit for lovers of art in general. The museum sees posters as paintings, thus making them subject to universal rules of interpretation. In fact, the place abounds in interpretive challenges, with the permanent collection encompassing 36 and 25 thousand works by Polish and international artists respectively! The oldest item from the Polish collection is an anonymous playbill on the steamboat industry dating back to 1892. The collection also includes iconic works by members of the Polish School of Posters. International works include an abstract poster by Joan Miró from the seventies and a fine geometrical piece by Giovanni Pintori. Since the exhibition is currently undergoing a change, the museum will remain closed until November 14.
"Touch the Art" exhibition, photo: Krzysztof Gajewski
A good place to go after a walk in Łazienki when your mind is refreshed and perspective clear. This is because the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Modern Art often features engaging art – by established and emerging artists – that invites deeper thinking and analyses. Closing soon will be a superb exhibition entitled “Touch the Art” – a space to experiment for both creators and the audience, children included. Soon to premiere, on the other hand, is an exhibition of work by Karol Radziszewski and the first European exhibit of the hyslom collective from Japan. During your visit don’t forget about the bookstore and the small movie theater where you can see movies flirting with visual arts.
photo: The Museum of Neon Lights
Back in the day, neon lights used to beautifully lit up most Polish streets. Now, while they can still be spotted in cities across the country, the most iconic neon designs have disappeared from urban landscapes. Luckily, some of the finest gems have been preserved and can be admired thanks to this extraordinary museum located in the Praga district. In one of the modest spaces of the post-industrial Soho Factory we can see the famous green neon light of Cepelia, a silhouette of the mermaid, or “Jaś i Małgosia” and “Społem” neon lights that will surely take some of us back to childhood. The museum is a private institution whose owner collects and renovates neon lights from across Poland on his own. If you fancy taking a neon light home, you can purchase reproduced, tinier versions of famous originals, for example that of a volleyball player – now returning to Constitution Square after a period of absence.
photo: Raster Gallery
Libera, Dwurnik, Rydet and Sasnal are some of the artists whose work has been exhibited in the beautiful white interior of Raster Gallery – one of the most active Polish galleries of international prominence. Devoted to the promotion of contemporary art and young artists – Wilhelm Sasnal’s career took off with Raster when he was a member of Grupa Ładnie – the gallery was established in 2001 by a duo of art critics: Łukasz Gorczyca and Michał Kaczyński. Currently on show is an exhibition of Dominika Olszowy’s work – “Household Spirit” – calling on domestic space as governed by conflicting emotions, with fantastic elfs appearing next to ordinary curtains and leather-bound furniture. Once you’ve enjoyed the exhibition, make sure to browse through a local bookstore and its collection of publications, including special picks from Raster.
The best way to begin this visit is to stroll around the grounds surrounding Królikarnia where Sculpture Park boasts, among others, selected works from the collections of the National Museum in Warsaw. The latest addition is Maurycy Gomulicki’s “Melancholia” – with its shape beautifully glistening in the sun – to be exhibited in the park for the upcoming three years. The interior of Królikarnia, an 18th century palace, houses Xawery Dunikowski Museum of Sculpture where exhibitions, the recent one about monuments, and meetings with artists take place on a regular basis. Coming soon to Królikarnia is a series of sound installations entitled “Listenings – concerts to be toured”. Last but not least, we warmly encourage you to go on one of the guided walks organized as part of the series “Following the Warsaw Monuments”.
Mateusz Sadowski, photo: Stereo Gallery
Founded by two art critics and curators – Zuzanna Hadryś and Michał Lasota – Stereo Gallery has been operating for a decade now, first in Poznań and, since 2013, in the capital. From its inception, the gallery has been faithful to its mission of promoting contemporary art and collaborating with artists. Stereo has featured the work of artists from Poland and abroad, including Wojciech Bąkowski, a friend of the gallery, Piotr Bosacki, and Norman Leto. Upcoming is a monographic exhibition of Canada-born and Berlin-based artist Aleksander Hardashnakov.
photo: Museum of Life under Communism
While for some of you this visit will be a strongly retrospective journey, others will definitely appreciate its historical and cultural merits. The name of the museum speaks for itself, suggesting the nature of the exhibition that revolves around the reality of living under Communism. In a space brimming with mementos and symbols from the Polish People’s Republic you will find uniforms worn by the Citizens’ Militia, the iconic Frania washing machine, a soda siphon and colorful fizzy drink bottles. The 260 square meters of the museum also feature a car – Fiat 126p – an entirely furnished apartment (kitchen included!) and a café designed after the iconic Antyczna. And yes – they sell coffee!
Text: Marika Krystman
Photos: courtesy of museum and galleries