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"Why should such a place appear in such a place? About the new cafe pavilion in front of Bunkier Art Gallery in Cracow

29 of March '24

After the three-year renovation of the Bunkier Contemporary Art Gallery in Cracow, instead of joy came... distaste. It is not so much about the recently completed work, but about the lack of transparency in both the added structure and the decisions made.

Cracow brutalism

The exhibition pavilion at Cracow's Planty was built in 1965, designed by Krystyna Tolloczko-Różyska. The brutalist edifice with a structural façade designed by Stefan Borzęcki and Antoni Hajdecki, according to Michał Wiśniewski, is one of the most interesting examples of late modernism architecture in Cracow.

After fifty years of operation, due to the need for renovation, a competition was announced to develop an architectural concept for the reconstruction, expansion and superstructure of the headquarters of the gallery building.

By cleansing the mass from unnecessary tarnish, it wants to reopen to the surrounding urban landscape and gain a broader perspective on its unusual Brutalist facade, the organizers announced at the time.

masywny pawilon przysłania fasadę wyremontowanego Bunkra Sztuki

The massive pavilion overshadows the facade of the renovated Bunkier Art Gallery

© A&B

In the competition, whose jury was chaired by Jerzy Szczepanik-Dzikowski, KWK Promes' proposal was the winner. However, the realization of the vision of Robert Konieczny's team did not take place, the task was undertaken by Biuro Architekt Kaczmarczyk from Sucha Beskidzka.

when will the café by the Bunkier open?

In front of the gallery, on the Planty side, a popular café had been operating since 2001. Due to planned renovations and pandemic restrictions, the Bunkier Cafe closed four years ago. The place was well-liked by the city's residents, so it's no surprise that they looked forward to its reopening.

The cafe's presence next to the art gallery is fully justified; it is an important meeting place. Controversy, however, is aroused by its form, compared by some to a bus shelter or a bicycle parking lot, as well as the lack of information about the planned form or the procedure by which decisions were made on the construction and subsequent use of the pavilion.

kawiarnia przed Bunkrem Sztuki

cafe in front of the Bunkier Art Gallery

© A&B

Krzysztof Markiel, longtime director of the culture department at the Marshal's Office of the Małopolska Region, called the nascent pavilion a spatial destruct and makeshift during a press briefing in front of the Bunker:

Nobody puts this kind of thing up using the method of bolts and welds. Why are we suddenly doing something in this place under the umbrella of an "iconic café" that has nothing to do with worship, and is a denial of the quality, the art, the experience of the space that is associated with the Planty? Why are we putting this shelter in a place where we have delineated the historic walls that once surrounded Cracow? We're devastating everything, covering it up, allowing ourselves to do something that is unthinkable in the center of Cracow.

As we've been able to determine, the conservation permit for the construction work on the catering gazebo in the front yard of the gallery building was issued on September 30, 2022, by the then Małopolska Regional Conservator of Monuments Piotr Turkiewicz.

no permission for mediocrity

This place is one of the most important in our city, and we wonder from what mode this kind of space appears here. There is absolutely no quality in it  Małgorzata Tomczak, editor-in-chief of A&B, emphasized during a meeting with the press. In 2016, there was a competition for the renovation, reconstruction, modernization of the Bunkier Sztuki, and it was won by the excellent work of the great architect Robert Konieczny of KWK Promes, who is now, for another work, nominated for the Mies van der Rohe Award, and is on the short list of the five best buildings in Europe. This project didn't happen, the contract wasn't signed and the money was lost, the Bunkier was in danger of a building disaster, so it was decided to renovate and a tender was held. In this tender, there was no question that such a crummy space would appear again in the form of this shed or, as some people sometimes call it, a bus stop. [...] Why should such a shabby space appear in such a place?

kawiarnia przed Bunkrem Sztuki

cafe in front of Bunkier Art Gallery

© A&B

So what should be done? First, according to Małgorzata Tomczak, dismantle the structure under construction, while artist Mateusz Okoński called for inviting Cracow artists to prepare arrangements that would enrich this part of the Planty.

Art galleries liquidate and obscure works of art with sheer shoddiness Okoński concluded.

voice of Cracow's architects

Surprise at the form of the café pavilion was also expressed by the Cracow branch of SARP. This reaction, as emphasized by Magdalena Buczyńska-Zapała, president of the SARP Cracow Branch, and Marcin Brataniec, vice-president, is due to the lack of earlier information about changes relative to the assumed concept for the renovation and reconstruction of the building, and concerns in particular its location and architectural solutions.

konstrukcja kawiarni przed Bunkrem Sztuki

The construction of the café in front of the Bunkier Art Gallery

© A&B

SARP announced the organization of a debate with the participation of interested parties to seek a solution to the problem, and declared its willingness to cooperate with the Bunkier at further stages of the investment in order to work out solutions that correspond to the value of an outstanding sign of Cracow's architectural culture. The findings could lead to the organization of another nationwide architectural competition.

We are convinced that it is possible to simultaneously preserve the value of the building and the quality of the adjacent public space, which could become an extension of the Bunkier Sztuki's field of activity in the form of, for example, an open-air art gallery linked to a commercial cafe area the representatives of the SARP Cracow Branch point out.  For the realization of such a goal, an effort should be made to correct the existing solutions, including planning and architectural ones. [...] We also hope that the situation will raise awareness of the need to change the approach to the way this type of investment is carried out. Decisions on objects of high architectural and cultural value cannot be made partisan without the participation of the environment and the opportunity to discuss the best solutions  they conclude.

kawiarnia przed Bunkrem Sztuki

Café in front of the Bunkier Art Gallery

© A&B

unchanging things

We asked Bunkier Art Gallery on March 12 about how the design of the café pavilion was chosen, who will be its operator and how it was selected, what criteria were considered in the process, as well as how much the rent is and how the private restaurateur's profits from this location will translate into a public gallery. Responses were received on 2 April: ABOUT THE PAVILION IN FRONT OF THE BUNKIER ART GALLERY IN CRACOW — GALLERY RESPONSE.

The tenant of the café was selected through a competition announced by the Gallery a dozen years ago, and has since worked with as many as four Gallery directors. None of them have raised any objections on this account, so there is no need to look for a new entity to run the Bunkier Café
 Maria Anna Potocka, former director of the Bunkier Art Gallery and since 2010 director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow MOCAK, explained to Gazeta Krakowska.

So it looks like the premises in this lucrative location will continue to be run by the company Bunkier Cafe Wityński, Żakowski.

controversy continues

The lack of transparency associated with the questionable quality of the cafe pavilion has become intertwined with the controversy over the change in the position of director of the Bunkier Sztuki Contemporary Art Gallery. The position was held by Maria Anna Potocka from 2002 to 2010 and again from 2019. On March 1, 2024, she was replaced in this position by Delfina Jałowik, who was selected through a competition.

On March 16 this year, representatives of the Civic Forum for Contemporary Art expressed their concern about the irregularities that took place during the competition for the position of director of the Bunkier Art Gallery, while at the same time calling for the observance of transparent procedures for conducting competitions for management positions in cultural institutions. They pointed out, among other things, the difficulties of some candidates in obtaining the information necessary for the preparation of competition proposals and the irregularities in drawing up the minutes of the committee meeting.

Also controversial seems to be the fact that the person who was selected in the competition was employed as head of the Art Department in an institution managed by the same person who held two managerial positions at the same time: in the institution to which the competition pertained (Bunkier Sztuki Contemporary Art Gallery), as well as the institution in which the selected person was employed (MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow) — reads the aforementioned letter. — What's more, in the Competition Commission, the representative from the staff of the Contemporary Art Gallery Bunkier Sztuki was a person who, shortly after the successful candidate was appointed director, was hired for her previous position — head of the Art Department at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow MOCAK. Such a succession of events raises unequivocal suspicions of irregularities from the area of conflict of interest.

The response of the Civic Forum for Contemporary Art was also prompted by the decision to extend Maria Anna Potocka's term as MOCAK director for seven years.

We view President Majchrowski's practice of filling director positions in the cultural sphere unequivocally negatively — as discretionary. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow MOCAK is a public institution. We therefore demand that the legitimacy of the last contract with Maria Anna Potocka be verified and that the findings of the audit be made public. In addition, we demand an independent audit of the institution and an expert evaluation of MOCAK's activities to date. In democratic countries, it is elementary practice to subject an institution to an expert evaluation and an independent audit. This need arises especially when the directorship is held by the same person for such a long period of time. We make this demand along with the demand to hold a competition. An independent audit will make it possible to examine the actual situation of the institution, and its needs, while becoming a point of reference for those entering the competition and preparing the scope of the most urgent activities and development strategy — the OFSW letter reads.

compiled by Ola Kloc

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