by Richard Unwin
The pop-culture referencing contemporary chic of the Blow Up Hall 50 50 hotel lies only a ten minute walk from the medieval heart of Poznan’s old town. In between, international brands and busy bars line the cobbled streets, while narrow side alleys harbour baroque churches, their brash splendor preserved in cool, quiet air.
Little more that two and a half hours by train east of Berlin, Poznan is very much the image of thriving, modern Poland, the historic beauty of its buildings still standing out amid the social embrace of capitalist, commerce loving culture. Best known as a base for business conferences and trade shows, the prosperous city nonetheless plays a prominent artistic role, hosting the extensive Mediations Biennale, as well as the permanent residences of some of Poland’s wealthiest collectors.
Unusually for a hotel, the five star Blow Up Hall is, in its own right, a cultural attraction; its walls used to display part of owner Grażyna Kulczyk’s contemporary art collection. Amongst the vivid work on view are large scale, fashion influenced photographs and a giant installation hanging above the brick-clad, cavernous lobby. Guests at the hotel actually become part of the art as cameras placed along the corridors capture their movements, the resulting images dissected and multiplied, and presented kaleidoscope-like on numerous screens. The clever blend of intrusion and interaction is the brainchild of artist
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, whose riff on Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film, Blow-Up, has been used as centre point for the entire hotel. Managing to be less pretentious than it might sound, the quirky themes are continued by the use of iphones to open doors, a cocktail bar at the base of a former hop kiln, and a minimalist-futuristic, haute-cuisine restaurant.
Alongside the hotel, Kulczyk’s Poznan empire expands across the Stary Browar (Old Brewary) complex, a post-industrial shopping and entertainment centre that would look perfectly at home in central Manchester. Following Kulczyk’s self-styled ’50:50’ concept of equally balancing art and commerce, sitting at the heart of Stary Browar is the multi-storey Art Stations Foundation. Built to manage Kulczyk’s growing collection, the foundation stages regular temporary exhibitions that use Kulczyk’s acquisitions as a starting point for further enquiry. Recent exhibitions have included New Order, curated by the team behind Warsaw’s contemporary BWA gallery and featuring the likes of Mirosław Bałka and Donald Judd, and Parallel Systems presenting three non-conformist, female artists.
Poznan’s wider artistic offerings include a major division of Poland’s National Museum, housing a wide collection of international fine art, and fresh young galleries such as the impressive Galeria Stereo. With the 2012 edition of Mediations opening in September, and games from Group C of Euro 2012 taking place in the city’s Municipal Stadium in June (a fact that will see thousands of Irish fans descend on the old town’s bars) the year ahead is all set to showcase Poznan at its liveliest. Visitors unhampered by budget, though, will always be able to escape to the vapour filled cocoon of the Blow Up Hall’s black tiled steam room.
Travel Article by Richard Unwin