Between East and West: Krakow's Art Scene

by Jules Bukovsky

Having spent some time traveling across Europe and developing my taste for its rich artistic history, as well as finding my footing in the modern examples often blended in with days of past, I am always on the lookout for new and unusual hidden gems across Europe.

After visiting Europe’s major museums in Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin I felt like exploring off the beaten track art scene. Krakow divided both geographically and mentally between East and West opened to me a whole new creative perspective.

Being passionate particularly in the film and visual arts, I have visited the good the bad and the boring when it comes to venues and events in Krakow. To save you the hassle I have noted my favorites and given an insight into what to expect.

Polish Poster Gallery

Tickling two of one's fancies and probably my top place to while away hours in the city is the Galeria Plakatu or Polish Poster Gallery. Not only does this gallery scratch my itch for art but it also a brilliant place to get insight into cinema. I have actually found some of my favorite cinematic titles whilst browsing in the archives.

My personal recommendations from the gallery is spend some time reviewing those created by legendary artists Franciszek Starowieyski, Jan Mlodozeniec, Henryk Tomaszewski or Wojciech Fangor representing so called Polish Poster School. Circus posters made somehow disturbing impression on me and the poster series “Poland” of Ryszard Kaja presents the country in lyrical, finespun and minimalistic images.

Off Camera International Festival of Independent Film

Frequenting the Galeria Plakatu had more hidden benefits than those I alluded to above. Getting friendly with the staff meant I also discovered a top event in the Krakow cinema calendar, the Off Camera International Festival of Independent Film.

I have always loved independent cinema but have struggled in the past to find a platform for discovery of up and coming films. The Off Camera festival was the first of it's kind that I had the pleasure to visit and it was unbelievable. A personal highlight for me was the special screening of “The Double Life of Veronika” to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Krzysztof Kieślowski's death.


Moving away from film and towards contemporary art, one of my top repeat places to visit is the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow, or MOCAK. This venue is pretty new as things go, being built in 2010, but has already secured itself as a firm part of the art scene in Krakow.

Located in the neighborhood of the historic Jewish district Kazimierz MOCAK truly has something for every art lover, provided of course that you love contemporary art, with a number of brilliant exhibitions to visit throughout the year.

Must sees for me include include the Live Factory 2 by Krystian Lupa, based on a stage design from his theater production for Factory 2 a look at part of Andy Warhol’s life.

I would also recommend the permanent exhibition the Mocak Collection with works from many famous artists including Marina Abramovic, Resa Aramesh, Mounir Fatmi, Robert Devriendt as well as Polish elite artists like Paweł Althamer, Mirosław Bałka, Wilhelm Sasnal and Jonasz Stern.

Krakow Film Festival

This festival is dedicated to documentary, animated and short feature films and is a great opportunity to tap into the best of these types out there. Personally, I love this festival as it gives me a platform to experience the world from different and occasionally controversial points of view.

One particular highlight of the festival for me was Grzegorz Brzozowski’s “Stranger on my Couch”, as it brought back nostalgia of a very special time in my life, as well as really enjoying the artistic animation and concept behind Alicja Kot’s “Fish Scale”.

Krakow Film Music Festival

As if a major international independent film festival wasn't enough to put Krakow firmly onto the bohemian map, we also host the Krakow Film Music Festival. This event gives a fascinating insight into the compositional genius behind both blockbuster films and independent films alike.

I have managed to go to a few of these events in the past and have thoroughly enjoyed them all, I would recommend that you see the film you are going to listen to the music for before you go. I became rather lost and disinterested whilst listening to the music from one that I hadn't seen, I feel the emotion the film makes you feel really comes out when you get to listen to its music. In contrast, reflecting on my guilty and slightly childish pleasures, the highlight of the event for me was listening to Heitor Pereira’s music from Despicable Me 1, 2 and Minions as well as John Powell’s work from How to Train Your Dragon.

Gologorski Gallery

For a taste of local talent, I like to visit the Gologorski Gallery which has more of a focus on Polish contemporary artists than most. When I visited I enjoyed the works by Jacek Sroka and his unusual contemporary style.

My favorite part of this venue is that it does not simply focus on one type of art but provides and exciting insight in everything from paintings, sculptures, drawings, ceramics and jewelry right through to videos, performances and digital art.

There are many other venues, cinemas and galleries and events in Krakow worth visiting including the Kino Pod Baranami cinema, the Art Gallery of Contemporary Art Bunker and International Street Theatre Festival, but we would need a whole new article to cover those.

— Jules Bukovsky is an independent traveler passionate about budget traveling, art and cooking. A year ago she moved to Poland where she loves to explore local cultural scene.

(All photos used under Creative Commons License.)