Marta aka. A Girl Who Travels gives us a guide to Warsaw’s art scene by exploring the city’s history and culture.
If you’re planning on visiting Warsaw this spring, don’t limit yourself to visiting the touristy sites; dig a little deeper and discover Warsaw’s soul through street art.
One of the most underrated European capitals, Warsaw is a city of contrasts, where the past and present mingle together in an exciting cacophony of architectural styles and sights. The city is well-known for its turbulent past but it’s so much more than that – the vibrant culture, bustling streets and the city’s unbreakable spirit show that Warsaw’s focus is on the future.
The capital’s cityscape is an eclectic mix of the old and the new – here, you will see the concrete walls of large apartment blocks, a reminder of the city’s socialistic past, contrasting against the city center’s skyscrapers and stunningly renovated buildings of the Old Town and Nowy Świat, brought back to life after WW2, when Warsaw was almost entirely destroyed.
Warsaw’s art scene is, in a way, a reflection of that stark contrast, the growing popularity of street art and sculpture bringing a breath of fresh air to more traditional art galleries and museums, sprinkled in opulence across the city. The rise of alternative art doesn’t take away from the its more traditional form but rather, compliments it, adding a touch of excitement to the local art scene.
To experience the contrast between the traditional and modern art first hand, start at The National Museum. Located a stones throw away from the city’s popular Nowy Świat street, it’s one of the oldest art museums in the country, boasting a collection of approximately 830,000 works. The Polish painting section is particularly interesting as it provides an insight into the evolution of Polish culture and history over the years. Be sure not to miss the artwork by Wyspiański, one of Poland’s most famous painters. For a bit of socialist nostalgia, visit the modern art section where the artwork from the 1980s and 1970s relates to that time period.
To enjoy a more alternative experience, jump in a taxi and head to Praga Północ, East of the Wistula river. The gritty feel of the area, filled with pre-war buildings and drabby courtyards hidden behind graffiti-covered gates, is a reflection of its once infamous past. However, the feel of the area has been changing in recent years. Thanks to the rejuvenation projects, Praga is now becoming home to alternative galleries and art cafes, sprinkled around the once notorious Ząbkowska and Targowa streets. It’s also here that the artist Marek Sułek chose to display his artwork, Angels. Consisting of four blue statues representing guardian angels, this fabulous example of modern street art is very much tongue in cheek as the artist wanted the angels’ expression to reflect the once rowdy character of the area. The concept behind the sculpture isn’t religious but refers to the concept of the guardian angel, a nod towards the area’s past – Sułek vision was for them to represent the consciousness of the neighbourhood, acting as a reminder of its sins.
Once you’re done exploring Praga, head to The Sculpture Park in Bródno, a residential area marked by the distinctive high rise apartment blocks, or blokowiska, typical for the post WW2 architecture. Not your usual place for art lovers, the park came to live thanks to a local initiative, based on the idea of a ‘social sculpture’ and public art. It now displays an array of different sculptures and artwork, each representing a different character and style, providing an interesting contrast to the character the area.
The local art scene wonderfully captures Warsaw’s unique character, blurring the lines between the past and present, and it’s definitely worth exploring during your visit.