On the surface, Krakow, so deeply immersed in its history and attached to tradition, quite late and only partially covered by the industrial fever of the 19th and 20th centuries, does not seem to be a convenient place for the development of street art. However, both street art, broadly conceived, and its specific branch, murals, are doing well under the Wawel.
At the same time, the city is taking pioneering steps to implement a coherent mural policy and responsible management of these manifestations of public art, which – like any human activity – have their bright and dark sides. We invite you for a walk on the trail of Krakow’s murals!
Murals, street art and Krakow, or a few words of introduction
Murals are large-format paintings which belong to the so-called street art. They are placed on large areas of the outer walls of buildings, usually where the compact fabric of the built environment is disrupted for some reason: by demolition, degradation, also in post-industrial districts, near flyovers and buildings connected with transport infrastructure, as well as in housing estates. Unlike most graffiti and other forms of spontaneous urban art, murals are most often created legally, in agreement and often in response to city policy or in consultation with a private owner.
In the last 20 years, Krakow has been considered one of the most important centres of muralism in Poland. At the moment, there are about 300 murals in the city, located mainly in Kazimierz, Podgórze, Zabłocie and Nowa Huta, in the historical centre mainly around the railway station and the Mogilskie Roundabout. Traces of advertising murals from the communist era have also survived, including one on ul. Worcella, advertising the “Miraculum” factory in Zabłocie (c. 1968, designed by Jan Suchowiak), but most of these works were removed during the renovation and rebuilding of tenement houses.
Murals – types
The themes, styles and functions of murals range from individual artistic proposals and decorative forms, to historical or commemorative function, reference to tradition and the context of a place, political commentary, activism or political agitation, to commercial and advertising content. Acclaimed mural artists carefully adapt their compositions to the shape and structure of the chosen wall, and develop compositions that take into account the large-format substrate (multi-element compositions, often flat or using techniques to create spatial illusions, using a distinct contour, taking into account decorative solutions, integrating various types of typographic signs). In the shortest terms, the following can be distinguished: abstract murals, typographic murals (using a letter or graphic sign), and illustrative/narrative murals.
In collaboration with the city
Krakow’s murals have often been created in collaboration with the city authorities, including as part of major art and cultural events which have presented recognised international and Polish artists in this genre. As part of the Art Boom Festival (a visual arts festival organised in Krakow between 2009 and 2015), the mural “Ding, dong, dumb” (2011, designed by Blu, ul. Józefińska 3) was created, among others. The mural depicts a megaphone in the form of a bell, with the Vatican coat of arms visible, and a crowd listening to the speech of the figure holding it. The work was created in the artist’s characteristic style, with clearly defined contours of objects depicted in bright colours.
Other projects realised on the occasion of the Art Boom festival included the mural “M-city 658” (2012, designed by Mariusz Waras, Józef Mehoffer’s House, ul. Krupnicza 26), depicting Krakow as a utopian city-paradise, and the “Mural/Antymural” (2013, designed by Vova Vorotniov, ul. Józefińska 30). Commissioned by the organisers of the literary Conrad Festival and the New Art Foundation “ZNACZY SIĘ”, the mural “Think: Literature!/Lem” (2012, designed by Filip Kuźniarz, ul. Józefińska 24) depicts a walking robot and a quotation from Stanisław Lem’s prose. The Jewish Culture Festival, meanwhile, produced the murals “Yehuda” (2013, designed by Pil Peled, ul. Św. Wawrzyńca 14) – a lion with a child’s face, which refers to the Lion of Judah, the Jewish national symbol, and a mural alluding to the history of the Bosak family, former Jewish owners of a tenement house at Bawół Square (2014, designed by the Broken Fingaz collective, Plac Bawół 13).
The independent theatre festival “Art of Wrath – a festival of engaging art” was the occasion for the “Mayamural” (2013, proj. A. Taborowicz with his team, ul. Józefińska 24), referring to the Mayan calendar with the alleged prediction of the end of the world, presented there as a game of “Tetris”. As part of the Nowa Huta Art Festival, the ‘Audiomural’ (2013, proj. Aleksandra Toborowicz, a. Jana Pawła II232) – an abstract mosaic evoking the shapes of piano keys and mixer sliders – was executed. Leading figures of world literature associated with Krakow also receive their second life in mural art from time to time. The Krakow Festival Office commissioned murals dedicated to Stanisław Lem (2017, designed by Dagmara Matuszak, al. 29 Listopada 114a) and Joseph Conrad (2017, designed by Mateusz Kołek, ul. Zabłocie 13) as part of the Krakow City of Literature UNESCO programme.
Between artists and institutions
Interesting solutions are often the result of competitions announced by institutions, usually in connection with the need to commemorate anniversaries and important historical events associated with them. One of Krakow’s most important competitions was linked to the artistic patronage of Galeria Krakowska. In 2013, the first international competition for the design of the “Mall Wall Art” mural took place under the artistic direction of Artur Wabik. Its subject was the 1400-square-metre external façade of the building on the side of the railway station. The winning project by Justyna Posiecz-Polkowska, is a monumental composition of wood sculptural details inspired by the work of Jan Szczepkowski, the aesthetics of highland sculpture and art déco.
In 2017, as a result of another competition, the north façade of Galeria Krakowska was decorated with a mural entitled “Like Lem’s Krakow flat”, referring to the writer’s work (designed by Marcin Czaja). In the same year, as a result of a competition announced by AGH, a mural depicting the progress of technology was created: a steam locomotive, a flying ship and a particle accelerator (designed by Justyna Lubińska). In 2018, the university announced a competition for a mural to commemorate its 100th anniversary, designed by Anna Wardęga and referring to scientific fields associated with the Academy.
Murals also decorate the walls of cultural institutions and museums, very often emphasizing their mission and character, and attempting to inscribe them in the tradition of the surrounding part of the city. A mural using symbols associated with Jewish tradition and Judaism was created on the wall of the Galicia Jewish Museum (2013, designed by Marcin Wierzchowski), while the typographic ‘Poetry Storehouse: Krakow-Reykjavik’ (2013, designed by Paulina Lichwicka) appeared on the building of the Salt Storehouse at ul. Na Zjeździe 8, which will in future house part of the Planeta Lem Literature and Language Centre. In the Malopolska Garden of Art, a mural was realised on the wall around the building on the theme of nature and the original sources of creativity (2016, designed by an international group of artists: M. Rejs, S.-L. Hirsch, J. Mundiger, R. Koros). The building of the Nuremberg House, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the institution, was decorated with a mural entitled “Melancholia 68”, which is a contemporary interpretation of A, Dürer’s graphics (2016, designed by Mikołaj Rejs, ul. Skałeczna 2), while the Museum of the Home Army (2018, designed by M. Dziekan, S. Lorenc, flyover on Wita Stwosza Street) attracts attention with a mural constituting a composition of forms that allude to military decoration ribbons.
Between private and public
Murals are also created on private commissions or in consultation with the owners of private property. The motivation here is often an attempt to protect against uncontrolled graffiti, and to give the place a specific artistic character. In the second decade of the 21st century, the unofficial street art gallery was the area around the disused Hotel Forum, which houses a club café and a design gallery, now moved to another location. The walls of the former hotel were decorated with murals by well-known Polish and foreign street artists such as Augustine Kofie, Nawer and Sainer, and murals were also displayed inside the building. Another initiative by the property owner is the mural “The travellers of Wielicka Street and the tram” behind the Bieżanowska bus stop and its continuation “Wielicka Street 100 years ago” (2015-2018, designed by Tomasz Wełna), in which random travellers waiting for a bus at a nearby stop are portrayed (both murals contain more than 100 portraits in total).
Supporting the activities of street art artists in Krakow is provided by associations or foundations, as well as private companies, often acting in agreement with the city authorities and in cooperation with sponsors. In order to combat vandalism and hateful, racist inscriptions, the Association Pogromcy Bazgrołów (Association of Slayers of Scrawl) is active, organising actions of painting over graffiti by the local community and jointly painting murals created in cooperation with artists from the Faculty of Art at the Pedagogical University (J. Pasieczny, M. Batorski, P. Jargusz).
The Conscious Space Foundation, in turn, is patron of the “101 Murals for Krakow” project, which includes works by well-known Polish and foreign artists such as the “Farbki” mural (2014, designed by Olaf Cirut, Rondo Mogilskie), “Dragon by Dulk” (2016, by Dulk, Rondo Mogilskie), ‘Roboty’ (2015, proj. M. Rybak, ul. Zwierzyniecka 16), ‘Wild City’ (2020, proj. O. Mulica, J. Krótka, P. Czak, P. Jakób, Rondo Mogilskie), ‘M-City’ (2021, proj. Mariusz Waras, ul. Zabłocie 27). The commercial agency “ZOOTEKA”, which has been implementing the “muralisation of cities” project since 2006, is also a promoter and sponsor of the murals. One of the Agency’s initiatives was the creation of the “Silva Rerum” mural on the occasion of the celebrations of the 750th anniversary of the foundation of the City of Krakow in 2007. The mural on the retaining wall of Lassota Hill presents Krakow’s history from the earliest times to the present.
Murals as local initiatives
Murals are also created on the initiative of local communities – as part of the activities of the city’s cultural institutions or as a result of spontaneous actions, often finding support from the city authorities or private sponsors.
The Podgórze Cultural Centre was the initiator of a mural to mark the 100th anniversary of the merger of Kraków and Podgórze (2015, designed by Dagmara Matuszak, pl. Niepodległości). The Council of District VIII Dębniki organises an annual competition for the design and realisation of small murals, entitled. “Ósemka w Sprau”, which aims to support street art as a tool to improve the aesthetics of urban space, as well as to promote young artists. To date, nine editions of the competition have been held. They have resulted, among others, in the design of the mural ‘Form and Function’ on the façade of the Praska 52 Theatre (2015, designed by M. Szczurek-Maksymiuk), as well as murals on patriotic themes related to the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Poland’s Independence in 2018.
Similar initiatives are also undertaken by tenant communities and communities in housing estates: among others, the “Osiedlowa dżungla” mural created by children from the Prądnik Biały District on the wall of the commercial pavilion at ul. Siemaszki 31 (2017-2019, designed by Artur Wabik, org. Municipal Social Welfare Center and the District Council) or large-format ‘bird murals’ on the walls of the blocks of the Na Kozłówku housing estate (2017-2020, designed by Wojciech Rokosz), Student initiatives include: a mural dedicated to Stanisław Wyspiański, referring to the style of stained glass (2018, designed by Kamil Kuzko, ul. Storczykowa 4) and created as part of the “Polyculture” festival on the initiative of UJ students, and the “Liberator” mural, commemorating the crew of the British plane that flew with aid to the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and was shot down over Podgórze (2018, designed by Dagmara Matuszak, Artur Wabik, ul. Dąbrowskiego 14). This mural was created on the initiative of Jagiellonian University students, in collaboration with the Municipality of Krakow.
Murals – an element of revitalisation or gentrification?
Murals are considered an element that contributes to the revitalisation of neighbourhoods. Apart from their aesthetic function, they can have a social significance: they refer to local history, traditions, reinforcing the community’s identification with the place where they live. However, they also arouse controversy regarding their impact on the gentrification of the city, commercialisation and a certain excessiveness. Currently, the Municipality of Krakow, through expert and public consultation, is implementing a municipal mural policy that aims to develop principles and practices regarding the conditions of placement in the city space, as a way of preventing the aforementioned threats.
Text: Dorota Jędruch
Edited by Artur Wabik, Kraków Heritage portal
The text was originally created for the “Encyclopaedia of Krakow”, published by the Library of Krakow.