Poland's Art World Moves out of the East and into the Limelight

By Llana, Sara Miller | The Christian Science Monitor, August 7, 2013 | Go to article overview

Poland's Art World Moves out of the East and into the Limelight


Llana, Sara Miller, The Christian Science Monitor


The contemporary art space Raster Gallery in Warsaw used to be tucked away up three flights of stairs in an old apartment complex.

Such venues aren't atypical for the contemporary art galleries of post-Communist Poland. Exhibitions have been hung in hotel rooms, fire stations, or anywhere, really, that gallery owners and artists could find space.

So when Raster moved recently to a ground-level storefront with clearly marked opening hours to invite in the public, to the co- owner, at least, it felt as much symbolic as a matter of logistics. "We should be visible, there is no reason contemporary art should not be visible," says Lukasz Gorczyca.

Apparently the outside world agrees. Polish art is the new buzz, with market research dedicating reports to its potential, new international exhibitions, and record sales of art pieces. It's given rise to bold - if controversial - new experiments, and continues to grow with a middle-class collector base. While not altogether new, it's left one thing clear.

"Poland is in vogue," says Boguslaw Deptula, a leading art critic in Poland, who co-curated an exhibit called "Polish Art Now" at London's Saatchi Gallery in June. "For many today, it's 'fancy' to own a piece of [Polish] art."

An art haven amid communismEarlier this year, Skate's Art Market Research, a company based in New York, published a report on Poland titled "The Rising Star of Central Europe," and concluded its market is "innovative and quickly growing."

Mr. Gorczyca of Raster says that Poland is the hub of Central Europe right now in part because of simple numbers: it's much larger than its neighbors. But history has played an important role too.

While there was vast censorship during communism in Central and Eastern Europe throughout the 20th century, Poland was given a degree of cultural autonomy. That meant that compared to neighboring countries such as Hungary or what is now the Czech Republic, he says, art was allowed to flourish.

Mr. Deptula says that contemporary art in particular fared well during the Soviet era. "For art, it wasn't really a bad time," he says, in a Warsaw gallery where he works as a manager. "Contemporary art was tolerated here. The Communist government preferred abstract art instead of realism," he says, because there was less of an overt "political context."

It's been in the last decade that the genre has become more apparent, with a rise in contemporary gallery spaces and sales of contemporary art.

Gorczyca of Raster counts himself as a pioneer in the contemporary arts world in Warsaw. "When we started [the gallery], it was something that's so simple, but the concept didn't exist," he says in his office in a neighborhood that is now dotted with Mediterranean and other ethnic eateries, cafes, and bars. At the time in 2001 there were doubts they could pull it off. "Artists said, 'There is no market, there is no middle class,'" he says. "But we survived," and he says their client base is growing. …

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