The Last Polish Exhibit in Greenpoint’s Starbucks

Janusz Skowron (middle), the curator of exhibitions at the Starbucks in Greenpoint, talks about the 10-year history of the unique gallery. Left: Consul General of Poland Maciej Golubiewski with wife Agata. (Photo by Wojtek Maslanka via Nowy Dziennik)

For the past 10 years, while waiting for their coffee, customers of Greenpoint’s Starbucks located at the corner of Manhattan and Greenpoint avenues could look at Polish art adorning the brick wall opposite the counter. The current exhibit, which opened on June 17, is entitled “New York-Paris-Warsaw – drawings and photography” and presents works by Janusz Skowron, a curator of this non-typical, but popular gallery.

There have been 125 various exhibits in this café, presenting works of more than 125 artists mainly of Polish origin, both living in Poland and living in New York. Customers have been able to view the paintings, drawings, photographs and more by such artists as world-renowned Rafal Olbinski and Marcin Ryczek, or famous Polish Americans from the New York area: Lubomir Tomaszewski,  Jan Sawka, Wojciech Kubik and Janek Hausbrandt.

Skowron’s exhibit was supposed to be his farewell to the Starbucks gallery. He was going to retire and pass the curatorship of the exhibitions to Asia Sztencel, a young Polish artist and graduate of the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts. “There were more people interested in taking over, mainly American artists. However, I decided to pass it to Asia and promised to be of assistance, when needed,” said Skowron. “Unfortunately, when I finished hanging up my photographs for the current exhibition, the Starbucks manager told me that due to the remodeling of the café the exhibits will have to be discontinued,” he added.

During the opening, Skowron told many stories from the history of the Starbucks gallery and showed a thick folder with articles written about it by the Polish-American and American press.

“Initially I thought we would be showing works here by artists from the New York Polish Emotionalists Group, alone. But with time, we started presenting other artists and we ended up with 125 shows. It is a great pity we are going to lose this place. It has been a unique gallery, because, first of all, it is open all day long for 365 days a year; secondly, it is where artists both from the New York area and from Poland were able to present their works, sometimes making a debut in the Big Apple,” said Skowron, whose works opened and now close the operation of this unique gallery.

The farewell exhibit “New York-Paris-Warsaw – drawings and photography” will be on view until the end of July. The drawings it entails were created by Skowron on flights during his most recent trip to Poland, via Paris. “I decided that traveling on four planes I will draw. I like drawing ‘on my knee’, on the steering wheel or while waiting for my wife who is shopping. I thought why not use the travel time to create something too,” said Skowron. And that’s how the 33 drawings, now hanging on the Starbucks wall, came into being. “When drawing on the plane, I released the inner layers of imagination and emotion. Then, in Paris and Warsaw, I took pictures which I found analogical to the drawings I made,” the artist added.

The last gallery opening on June 17 was attended by a couple of dozen people, including artists, some of whom exhibited their works in the Starbucks, like Beata Szpura, Maria Majka Nowak and Mietko Rudek.

“I value initiatives which involve cooperation between Polish Americans and the local community or local authorities. The cooperation with Starbucks was indeed an example of such an initiative. I am sad to see it end,” said Consul General of Poland Maciej Golubiewski, who attended the exhibition opening. He expressed hope that Polish-American artists will be able to find a similar local place or institution where they will be able to continue showcasing their works. “I have talked about it with Brooklyn’s [borough] president Eric Adams,” he said.

Luckily the termination of the Polish gallery in Greenpoint’s Starbucks does not mean the end of shows of works by Polish-American artists in Brooklyn. After the opening of Skowron’s last exhibit in the Greenpoint café, the guests proceeded to another artistic space run by Skowron: A.R Gallery at 71 India St. to participate in another opening. This exhibit, entitled “Visual Voice,” presented works by Polish-American artists living in California. “They are members of Krak Art, the oldest group for Polish artists, mainly graduates of the Kraków Academy of Fine Arts, living outside of Poland. It was founded 35 years ago in Los Angeles by Andrzej Kolodziej.

“I am glad to see artists who live outside of Poland but are proud of their roots,” said Consul Golubiewski, who also congratulated Skowron for his many years of dedication to artistic and social initiatives.

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