Why you should care
Because this filthy street-art utopia is Warsaw’s must-see gallery stop.
What do you do with a 100-plus-year-old fortress formerly under Soviet occupation that isn’t serving a purpose other than to remind everyone of a bloody past? Obviously, you turn the area into a massive, beautiful park and convert the barracks into a completely legal, unsupervised street-art gallery, open 24/7. You also make sure it’s difficult to find and far off the tourist trail, creating an adventure for alternative-art seekers.
This open-to-the-public graffiti-filled space, known as Galeria Forty/Forty, is at Fort Bema in Warsaw, Poland. It’s a filthy street-art utopia with impressive work from professional and amateur artists alike.
It’s unkempt, unconventional state actually makes it more appealing.
The Galeria Forty/Forty project began in 2011, with artists from Poland and beyond invited to cover the barracks’ walls. But after five years, funding ran out and the project ended. Co-curator and artist NeSpoon says she would gladly start the project up again, but that “it’s a big challenge to organize, especially to secure financing.” The art remains, though, and the space became a go-to for graffiti-makers and appreciators. Pantonio’s charmed snakes, painted in 2015, meld with an unknown artist’s “lit match.” Surprisingly, Monstfur’s Skryl has gone largely untouched, though the elements have contributed signs of decay.
Each hall is full of art ready to be explored — with closed-toe shoes and a flashlight. Referring to the space as dirty is a compliment. Glass breaks underfoot, there’s garbage everywhere, the walls and floor are cracked and crumbling, curious smells emanate from the corners and, in some of the darker spaces, unmentionables exist.
But the grunginess doesn’t detract from the gallery’s greatness; its unkempt, unconventional state actually makes it more appealing. You aren’t going to be served wine and cheese or have a curator offering insights into why Nirvana lyrics are plastered on a wall or how the use of a skeletal Pac-Man at the entrance speaks to pop culture’s influence on society. Galeria Forty/Forty is open to interpretation, a free space without judgment. And if you’re lucky, a guitar-playing musician may serenade you during your (rough) journey through its chambers.
— Ido Liven (@IdoLiven) May 29, 2016
Franciszek Płóciennik, who runs Warsaw Secrets, a tour group that takes visitors to the gallery, admits that it’s “down as hell.” That may change, though: He is planning to invite convicts from Warszawa-Białołęka prison to help clean the space in exchange for street art workshops and area sightseeing. Płóciennik is also working to persuade area residents, nongovernmental organizations, and local politicians to organize an environmental education project to preserve Fort Bema and its gallery from “further devastation.” But whether or not any of this happens doesn’t really matter — the space will live on.
And maybe, one day, a sculptor will put to use all the broken glass and make something magical. Or maybe the city will install a bin. Either would be great.