The history of Bunkier goes back to the year 1950. On the strength of the decision of Minister of Culture and Art the Kraków branch of the Central Bureau of Art Exhibitions (CBWA) was created. Its programme, organizational and financial issues were supervised by the headquarters in Warsaw. It was initially located in a small room in 3 Łobzowska Sreet, rented from the Association of Polish Artists and Designers. Later, from 1951 to 1965, premises were hired from the Friends of Fine Arts Society (Pałac Sztuki, 4 Szczepański Square). After the CBWA had been decentralised in 1962, its Kraków branch was transformed into the Bureau of Art Exhibitions (BWA). Three years later, a two-storeyed pavilion with then gigantic exhibition space of ca. 1,000 sq metres, designed specifically for the BWA, the seat of Bunkier Sztuki till present, was built (3a Szczepański Square) and given for exclusive exploitation to the bureau. The project was prepared by Krystyna Różyska-Tołłoczko. The building hosting Bunkier Sztuki is one of few instances of brutalism in Poland. The façade constructed of concrete casts of wooden framework was designed by Stefan Borzęcki and Antoni Hajdecki.

The artistic programme, presented up till 1994, was often a mosaic of random proposals. Exhibiting artists were mostly members of the Kraków branch of the Association of Polish Artists and Designers (ZPAP) and the Union of Polish Photographers (ZPAF), the gallery also staged “wandering” exhibitions compiled by the CBWA, ranging from expositions of folk handicrafts and medal engraving to interior architecture, from Russian or Romanian art to slightly braver and more “exotic” shows, such as Norwegian or Indian art. The BWA also organised educational events, such as meetings with artists, discussions, lectures and talks.

Critical administrative changes that affected the history of the Gallery did not occur until the year 1989. The BWA with its premises in 3a Szczepański Square was incorporated into the authority of the Kraków Commune and was granted the status of municipal gallery in 1994, which found symbolic manifestation in the official change of name. The Bureau of Art Exhibitions (often called Galeria BWA from 1993 to 1994), adopted the name the Gallery of Contemporary Art Bunkier Sztuki one year later.

Marysia Lewandowska comments on the name in the following manner: ...the term "bunkier" (bunker) is associated with a situation of danger and the need to take hiding in order to survive. But the name comes rather from the characteristic shape of the building in which the Galley is located. It also refers to the idea of the Gallery itself which presents and protects in its premises the most valuable expressions of new art.

The concept of Bunkier Sztuki originated in another perspective on the potential of the place: it was not only the biggest gallery in the Małopolskie province, but also the biggest municipal gallery in Poland. A contemporary arts centre was to be created, whose influence would reach further than locality, maintaining international standards regarding both substantive quality and professional organisation of expositions.

An excerpt of Beata Nowacka-Kardzis text Bunkier Sztuki Gallery, published in a book Art in Bunkier / Bunkier Sztuki Gallery 1994-2006