Going to the big contemporary art museums in every new city you visit is an easy way to get acquainted with the local scene, but probably not the most exciting. While the grandest institutions aim to bring the best of the world’s modern art to their local audience, it is the independent, hard-to-find galleries where some of the most interesting and innovative cultural experiments are underway. Here are six of the New East’s best smaller galleries, where the achievements of the region’s booming art communities are on display for all to see. For more insiders’s tips on the best galleries, restaurants, bars, architectural walking tours, and more, download The Calvert Journal’s award-winning New East Travel Guide app on iTunes or Play Store.
Patara Gallery, Tbilisi
This small, experimental gallery takes underground art extremely seriously — and very literally. Co-founded by Nata Kipiani and Gvantsa Jishkariani, Georgia’s favourite young artist, Patara Gallery displays contemporary art in one of the city centre’s underpasses. Expect internet art, mixed-media installations addressing injustice and issues of collective memory, as well as music improvisations and performances. Artists include well-known locals, like Andro Eradze and Salome Dumbadze, as well as guests from Germany, Czech Republic, and France. Open by appointment or 24/7 as a window gallery.
Underpass on Rose Revolution Square
Berlinsky Model, Prague
If the names David Černý, Alena Kotzmannová, and Jakub Matuška ring vague bells, or you want to find something really raw, head to Berlinsky Model, putting the “temporary” in “contemporary art”. Each exhibition is one-day only and features a meal made by the artist. Located in the revamped Holešovice district, the gallery is engaged in social empowerment by supporting local, emerging artists. Every Wednesday, the gallery’s bright red shutters roll up to reveal a new art project, usually a combination of photography, objects, video art, and painting. The one-day format is a nice way to draw a cool crowd, so don’t miss the chance to mingle with the locals and pick up a copy of RAJON magazine, which is curated by the gallery.
Poplukovnika Sochora 1387/9
Śmierć Człowieka, Warsaw
Apartment galleries are quite common on the DIY art scene. They are cheaper to run, more intimate, and attract younger, internet-savvy crowds keen to dive into the unknown and make new connections. One of the finest examples of this kind is Warsaw’s Śmierć Człowieka, run by digital artist and photographer Kamil #2, and located in one of the rooms of the flat he rents. In fact, there are two galleries in the flat, both run by Kamil: the other, Laboratory of Visual Anthropology, focuses exclusively on digital art. So if you’re craving a house party, head to Śmierć Człowieka.
Fragment Gallery, Moscow
Fragment Gallery, along with the nearby Praktika experimental theatre, embodies a protest against the voracious gentrification of the surrounding area, which is dominated by sleek eateries and high-end shops. Those who venture down the side-street to Fragment Gallery, however, will be able to explore innovative artworks, recent examples of which include Sofia Skidan’s photo sculptures of a post-digital paradise, Alexey Martins’s animals made of Siberian wood, and Zina Isupova’s oil and cotton wool canvases showing scenes from the conflict in Ukraine. The gallery puts young, local artists in the spotlight, with every new exhibition completely transforming the gallery’s white cube interior.
30 Bolshoi Kozikhinsky Lane
The picture postcard streets of Krakow are a familiar tourist trap. For cool locals, however, one of the city’s main draws is Potencja, a film studio, publishing house, and art gallery run by artists Karolina Jabłońska, Tomasz Kręcicki, and Cyryl Polaczek. There are new exhibitions every three months: naive, visually attractive, bright and playful — and mostly by local artists. Recent iterations have featured intimate, black and white portraits hidden behind blue tinsel curtains, hyperrealistic oil snowmen painted on canvases, and model flounder fish in glass and plastic. The crowd may consist of art students drinking wine from eco-friendly, cardboard wine glasses, but the vibe is not too local: the gallery promotes Polish contemporary art from far beyond Krakow itself, and the exhibited artists are regularly invited to art residences across Europe.
Institute of Contemporary Art — Sofia
Just outside Sofia’s city centre, this small gallery occupies the first floor of a residential house and is a temple for true art addicts. The Institute of Contemporary Art — Sofia is not quite an underground gallery. It is run by establishment art figures and boasts exhibition space, a research centre and studios, and its most recent exhibition, Nedko Solakov’s reflection on contemporary Bulgarian identity, was commissioned by the European Union to mark Bulgaria’s presidency (featuring some of the nation’s most prominent cultural figures, including writer Georgi Gospodinov, art critic Iara Boubnova, and physical theatre artist Ivo Dimchev). Despite the big names, the ICA is nurturing a new generation of Bulgarian artists and remains true to a punk spirit. It welcomes playful art shows like Museum Souvenirs of the Non-existent Museum of Contemporary Art in Bulgaria, an annual exhibition that mocks the tradition of Christmas gift giving.
134 Vasil Levski Boulevard