Commercial galleries Exhibitions Market Poland

Warsaw galleries aim to build a market from the ground up

Now in its third year, the city’s annual weekend of gallery openings and art events tried to make up for a lack of local collectors

Class of 2013: the gallery owners taking part in the third edition of Warsaw Gallery Weekend. Photo: Zuza Krajew­ska & Bartek Wieczorek

Over the past decade, Polish artists have done exceptionally well on the international art scene. At home, however, they have had a harder time making a market for themselves. Warsaw-based galleries such as Foskal and Raster helped to propel Polish artists including Miroslaw Balka, Wilhelm Sasnal and Pawel Althamer to great heights abroad, but the lack of local collectors led many to leave the country. Warsaw Gallery Weekend, in its third edition this year, aims to change that.

The traditional arts hub in Warsaw is the city centre on the left side of the Vistula river. But in 2011, three commercial galleries—Galeria BWA Warszawa, Galeria Leto and Piktogram—opened on the less-developed right bank of the river. The galleries teamed together that year, coordinating their openings, in an event called “Bliski Wschod” (near East). A few months later, the left-bank galleries joined the event and Warsaw Gallery Weekend was born. It has grown to include 21 galleries, up from 17 last year, thanks to new spaces opening in the capital and others moving there from the city of Poznan. The event follows the format of Berlin Gallery Weekend: gallery openings are paired with panel discussions, film screenings, curator-led walks, parallel museum shows, performances and parties.

On the left bank, many galleries are located in apartment blocks. For example, the Foksal Gallery Foundation, a regular on the international fair circuit, has taken over an entire residential building overlooking the Soviet-era Palace of Culture, where it is showing “subtle and ephemeral interventions” by the artist Cezary Bodzianowski (until 31 October). Raster Gallery is one of the few exceptions, having moved to a ground-level storefront two years ago. This weekend, it opened a striking photographic series by Oskar Dawicki (until 9 November), depicting twisted bodies against a white background (edition of three plus two artist’s proofs, €4,000).

One benefit of the lack of an art market under the Communist regime (1948-89) is a treasure trove of previously unseen older art in the country. Lokal_30 is showing newly unearthed, sexually explicit photographs by the Polish avant-garde artist Natalia LL, priced between 8,000 and 150,000 złoty ($2,500-$48,000, until 9 November). Post-war artists have also been brought to the fore, including Zbigniew Dlubak at Fundacja Archaeologia Fotografii, Alina Szapocznikow at Galeria Aleksander Bruno and Jan Swidzinski at Fundacja ARTon.

On the right bank, in the working-class Praga neighbourhood in a redeveloped industrial complex, Galeria Leto is showing geometric, Op Art-inspired pieces by Maurycy Gomulicki (€3,000-€25,000, until 31 October). Nearby, a house built by the Modernist architect Czeslaw Przybylski has been taken over by two galleries, Galeria BWA Warszawa and Galeria Asymetria, and a restaurant. BWA is showing recent wood and paper hanging works by the young artist Agnieszka Kalinowska that harken back to the Soviet era (€600-€10,000, until 16 November). Upstairs, Asymetria is showing photographs by the Krakow-based Wojciech Plewinski alongside those by the Tel Aviv-based artist Ronit Porat (until 26 October).

The lack of Polish collectors is a common complaint among Warsaw gallery owners, so this year, the organisers have focused their energies on bringing curators, museum directors and collectors to the event. While Grazyna Kulczyk, a property developer and the founder of the Poznan-based Art Stations Foundation, is generally seen as the only major Polish contemporary art collector, others are slowly coming out of the woodwork. For example, spotted in the galleries this weekend were the collectors Tomasz and Anna Lubinski from Zielona Gora in western Poland. The couple have recently been lending major works by Mirslaw Balka from their collection to museum exhibitions.

Though growing, the contemporary art market in Warsaw still needs support: almost all the participating galleries are foundations, meaning they can apply for government funding for individual projects. One gallery owner, who prefers not to be named, calls it “Socialist commercialism”. Less constrained by commercial demands, these galleries are perhaps more daring in their exhibitions—a unique situation that may soon come to an end as the market develops.

Agnieszka Kalinowska Eastern Wall, 2013, at Galeria BWA Warszawa
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