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Shop Until Your Jaw Drops: Polish Art Shines in Breathtaking Setting

25/05/2013 23:01 BST | Updated 24/07/2013 10:12 BST

Like any self-respecting city with a budding sense of what is hip, every weekend Warsaw blossoms with local foods stands, young designer clothing sales and flea markets. But while last Saturday you could go to a "breakfast market," a book fair and a guerilla fashion sale, many locals chose to spend their money and time at an event unique not only for the products sold, but for the space it was held in.

The third annual Art Yard Sale Ufficio Primo was organized this year under the general theme of "Made in Poland." Visitors could purchase pieces by the biggest names in Polish art, as well as top-notch artists of the younger generation. The most impressive feature, however, was the space - not your typical loft or gallery - but a newly renovated spectacular 1950s office building called Ufficio Primo, owned by the the wealthiest man in Poland - Jan Kulczyk.

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When you walk into Ufficio Primo, you feel slightly dizzy. The lobby is an atrium, a large circular opening going through all 11 floors of the building, enclosed by a dome with porthole windows. The surrounding traditional, renaissance-style column galleries look almost endless as they go all the way to the top. The black granite floor is covered with a subtle geometric pattern.

Last weekend, contributing to the dizziness, amidst some Kelis blasting through the speakers, a yellow rope spiderweb spiraling upwards was hovering above you attached to the atrium columns. What to me looked like a crazy 3D spirograph drawing was designed to resemble the serpentine staircases of Le Corbusier, a pioneer of modernist architecture. The installation by the duo Macias and Cókierek was a tribute to the building's architect, Marek Leykam, a representative of the Warsaw modernist school.

Because the space was also open for Museum Night, the Europe-wide event where museums open their doors free of charge to visitors, the installation was illuminated around 10 p.m, creating a space-age centerpiece.

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Art Yard Sale Ufficio Primo press materials

The air of coolness and sophistication were quickly disturbed by swarms of children playing on the white fiberglass furniture structures put in for the event. And that's the point - at the misleadingly named Art Yard Sale, you're meant to interact with art and artists, purchase a poster or a decorative dish, but also leisurely spend the day with family and friends in a striking setting.

The sale itself was in a white, almost industrial space which wraps around the contrasting black granite atrium. The fine art section, run by the famous Warsaw Raster Gallery, included prints by internationally renown artists such as Wilhelm Sasnal and Zbigniew Libera. In the photography part, pieces by young artists such as 28-year-old Witek Orski and author of legendary press photos from Communist-era Poland - Chris Niedenthal - hung side by side. The most expensive works reached €1000-1500 - a price tag that did not scare off collectors nor the accidental buyers, according to the coordinators.

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The fine art and photography sections

With some notable exceptions, such as Mieczysław Wasilewski of the famed Polish poster school, the most established artists weren't there to advertise and sell their pieces. But the emerging frontrunners of the Polish art scene manned their art-covered wall sections day and night. And the interaction between artist and buyer or visitor is the essence of the event.

Olka Osadzińska, the Sale's organizer, said that they wanted to select a group of people who are in fact responsible for the physical appearance of our surroundings - graphic designers, illustrators, industrial designers. For the artists, the event was invitation-only, and as everything was financially backed by the building's owners, there was no commision or fee to pay .

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The cherry on top, or, in this case, at the bottom, was the fashion section held in a circular underground space, originally designed as an anti-nuclear bunker. At the Art Yard Sale, it served as an Austin Powers-style exhibition area for carefully selected representatives of the Polish fashion scene - with the designers there to mingle with the customers, such as the highly successful Ania Kuczyńska who was strolling around with her baby.

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The mostly minimalistic designs were presented by a group of mannequins standing in the center, under the arched, ray-structured beams, all of them wearing fancy headphones playing music chosen by the designer (not an empty artistic statement - although intimidating, you could actually take them off the mannequins and listen)

The Art Yard Sale Ufficio Primo drew thousands of visitors (only during Museum Night, so in the span of two hours, the attendance reached 4000), many of whom walked out with a purchase, ranging from a €10 hand-painted baby onesie to a €1000 photograph, making up for a successful sales turnaround. Hopefully the event will become a permanent fixture and another reason to establish Warsaw on the European art scene.

But after Sunday comes Monday, and as out went the art fans and in came the suits, Ufficio Primo had to go back to serve its usual, perhaps mundane purpose - an office space mostly for investment banks such as Morgan Stanley. Until next year.

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