If you’ve been keeping a tab on the local news the last week or two then you’ll be familiar with the scandal enveloping one of Warsaw’s favorite remnants of commie concrete.
Completed in 1969, but officially opened on January 15th, 1970, Dom Meblowy Emilia has been cited as one of the outstanding remaining examples of post-war modernism in the country. Functioning for decades as a furniture store that never really evolved beyond stocking furniture hailing from the Brezhnev school of design, the last eight years have seen this landmark handed a new lease of life by its present tenants: the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw.
The current exhibitions are, as visitors have grown to expect, challenging, ambiguous and provocative in equal measure. Why We Have Wars poses the question, ‘who are outsiders?’ Bread & Roses, meanwhile, contemplates ‘the way artists define their status and position in the realm of an ever-widening economic gap’.
But do not let the complexity and weighty matter of these exhibitions deter a visit. Whether or not any of it makes any sense – and much of it frequently doesn’t – isn’t here nor there. That’s because the real triumph of this museum isn’t so much it’s art, rather it’s wider philosophy.
Charging a grand sum of zero for entry, it’s more than a handy place to hide from a rainstorm. Whether intentional or not, much of the art is witty and fun, while the rest of the space includes a communal wifi zone within touching distance of the Palace of Culture, not to mention an auditorium that witnesses often heated debates discussing such topics as the future of Warsaw’s modernist structures.
That’s a subject particularly pertinent to Emilia. Purchased by Griffin Real Estate four years ago for zł. 115 million, the very future of this plot rests in the lap of the Gods. If Griffin get their wish, then it’ll be replaced by a 207-meter skyscraper built in the vein of Malmo’s epic Twisted Torso tower. Conservationists, however, are fighting to protect the building and keep it in its original form.
The story, though, has taken an unexpected twist, with Griffin’s representatives making a remarkable offer to shift Emilia to a new site: namely, the empty asphalt tundra in front of PKiN. The zł. 24 million cost of this daring project would be covered in part by Griffin, and in part by City Hall.
But the situation, it seems, is changing almost daily. Deals and developments have been conducted at such a lightning pace that transparency has often been lost in the resulting whir of handshakes, arguments and PR maneuvers. What happens next is largely based on guesswork, though past history suggests the developer will win the day. That this time – for the first time, even – it appears to be a developer with a conscience is a crumb of comfort.
In the meantime, the message is clear: visit Emilia while you can. Should you hold a fleeting flicker of interest for art or architecture visit, and if not, visit anyhow. At a time when sections of Mokotów are mocked as Mordor, and parts of Wilanów derided as Lemmingrand, the same people who come up with such sly, smart monikers should look closer to the center. How long till this part of our capital eats its identity and evolves into another ‘zone’? It’s up to you…
Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
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