Friday, August 10, 2012

Art Bunker: "The Ugliest Building in Krakow"

by Drew Martin
Krakow is a gorgeous old city in southern Poland. It has the second largest medieval square in Europe and a castle that the Tibetan monks marked as one of the most spiritual sites on Earth. Its museum collections include priceless gems such as Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine and the astronomical instruments of the local-boy-made-good, Nicolaus Copernicus. Even a nearby salt mine boasts fine art: one of the more ornate chambers was transformed into an underground ballroom with salt crystal chandeliers and illuminated salt statues. Modern art fits like a square peg in this traditional region where the people not only take great pride in their past but depend on it for a tourist-based economy. To make things worse for the avant garde, the museum that brought contemporary art to Krakow during the Soviet era demolished a beloved art noveau cafe in order to claim its lot on the edge of the old town. The raw concrete building immediately earned the reputation as "the ugliest building in Krakow." The exterior is tagged with the name, The Exhibition Pavilion, but has now embraced its derogatory nickname, the Art Bunker. I visited it last week and liked it a lot. For one thing, the thriving Krakow tourist industry does not know what to do with it. In a city of overpriced carriage rides, locals who pose as statues of knights, and flocks of tourists that gather like pigeons in the old town square to hear the Hejnal play his trumpet from the church tower every hour, the Art Bunker is a refreshing oasis from all the gothic- and renaissance-glory. The entrance fee is less than four dollars and is half that for artists with an example of work. The museum's giftshop/bookstore looks like a messy flat of the friendly and helpful biker-hipsters that work there. I also really liked the exhibits I saw there: Nicolas Grospierre - The City Which Does Not Exist and Laura Pawela - The Sky Won’t Fall in, even if You Walk Backwards.