The Art Gallery Landscape
Budapest’s commercial art galleries date back only a few decades because state censorship during communism restricted and monitored all cultural production. Artists who weren’t tolerated by the state had to resort to furtive displays of their works in alternative locations like private apartments.
The decades-long absence of a functional marketplace was both a blessing and a curse for Hungarian artists at the time. A curse, because many of them struggled financially and they were effectively excluded Western influences. Due to this isolation, however, they remained unburdened by the demand of the market, enabling them to adopt a unique, self-serving, often pioneering artistic language. A language filled with black humor, covert disobedience, and witticism, testing the boundaries of state control.
Today, Budapest’s art world paints a very different picture. Several pockets of the city teem with galleries, and international buyers for contemporary Hungarian art are showing interest. Many are intrigued by works secretly produced during the communist-era, a field still largely undiscovered. To leverage this, Budapest galleries (often in cooperation with small, so called research galleries) began to systematically catalog works of lesser known, clandestine artistic movements that weren’t documented at the time. They also participate in international art fairs, like the viennacontemporary, to build awareness.
Given that the market is still small, most Budapest galleries don’t specialize in a single art movement or time period, instead carrying works of a range of artists and styles. They host temporary exhibitions throughout the year (predominantly between September and June, with free admission), but the best way to get acquainted with the city’s contemporary art scene is through the art fairs, which bring together the key players. (Also, many galleries are located in obscure places, like upper floors of residential buildings, that are difficult to locate.)
The most famous is Art Market Budapest, a fall event attended by hundreds of Hungarian and international galleries. The OFF-Biennale is a grass-roots initiative, where several smaller Hungarian galleries also participate, including those from outside Budapest. Art Capital is another well-attended art event that takes place in the charming city of Szentendre, known for its artist communities. For two days, some of the leading Budapest galleries open their doors and offer guided tours during the Gallery Weekend Budapest project. In the spring, Budapest Art Week runs an event series that combines excellent exhibitions of both museums and galleries.
The Top 11
For those into earlier epochs, Kieselbach and Virág Judit are two major galleries with extensive collections focusing mainly on Hungarian fine art of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Both of them are located on Falk Miksa Street, known for its high-end antique stores and auction houses.
Labor and Studio are smaller galleries supporting the careers of recent graduates of the University of Fine Arts. Their exhibits are known to be daring and adventurous, pushing artistic limits with youthful exuberance. Stop by here at a vernissage to scout for talent and meet the next generation.
Note that most galleries in Budapest are closed on Monday and on the weekend. It’s best to give a heads-up to the ones you wish to visit, even if you plan to go during open hours (see contact details below). All of the galleries listed below get international visitors, and have English wall texts, often bilingual catalogs, and an English-speaking staff.
acb Galéria (location; Tuesday to Friday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.): An ornate interior courtyard awaits visitors behind the nondescript, sooty facade of this pre-war residential building. That, and acb Galéria, one of Budapest’s leading contemporary galleries (they have a smaller exhibition space on Eötvös Street, but the main entrance is at 76 Király Street). Acb’s main focus and mission is to draw international attention to Hungarian neo avant-garde art (1960s and ‘70s), a still largely undiscovered field. They have contributed to several foreign shows on the subject, most recently Elizabeth Dee gallery’s highly praised exhibition in New York City. Their roster of artists include established, internationally-known figures, such as Katalin Ladik, one of the performance artists at documenta 14, Imre Bak, an abstract painter on display at Tate, and Gyula Várnai, whose installations represented Hungary at the 2017 Venice Biennale.
Kisterem Galéria (location; Tuesday to Friday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.): Kisterem, located on a charming downtown side street, is one of the most internationally-exposed Budapest galleries. Since their opening in 2006, they’ve participated in several renowned art fairs like Art Rotterdam, LISTE, Viennacontemporary, Art Cologne, Frieze London, and the FIAC in Paris. Similar to acb, Kisterem also represents well-known neo avant-garde artists, including abstract painter István Nádler. The gallery dedicates floor space to the next generation too: about half of its annual exhibitions depict works by up-and-coming Hungarian artists.
Vintage Galéria (location; Tuesday to Friday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.): Hungary has a strong resume when it comes to photography (think Robert Capa or László Moholy-Nagy). To see what the cream of the crop of the country’s later, neo avant-garde generation of photographers are up to, head to Vintage Gallery. Situated on a quiet street along the a pretty downtown park (Károlyi-kert), its 19th century facade still bears the name of the perfumery that once operated here. Vintage represents, among others, Dóra Maurer, the renowned experimental artists who in 2016 received a solo exhibition at the iconic White Cube gallery in London. And also Andre Kertész. Vintage publishes and sells excellent (bilingual) booklets about their artists (many can also be downloaded online).
Budapest Poster Gallery (location; by appointment only: [email protected] or +3630 662 7274): With over 2,500 original Hungarian vintage posters, this gallery is a treasure for fans of graphic art. The collection spans over an array of 20th century artistic styles, including art nouveau, art deco, and also historic pieces done during communist Hungary. Many of the posters were designed by pioneers of modern Hungarian art. The gallery can be visited by appointment only, so it's well-worth perusing their online catalogue before you go.
Deák Erika Galéria (location; Wednesday to Friday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.): Hiding near Andrássy Avenue, Deák Erika Galéria works with Central European artists who focus on traditional disciplines like painting and sculpture. The works, however, encapsulate a broad spectrum of styles, ranging from the figurative paintings of the increasingly-well-known Attila Szűcs to radically abstract (Márton Nemes) and op-art (Bullás József) pieces.
Faur Zsófi Galéria (location; Monday to Friday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.): On the other side of the Danube River, the increasingly trendy Bartók Béla Boulevard is teeming with art galleries and design stores. Founded in 1997 by Zsófi Faur, they specialize is contemporary photography, but one can run into excellent solo shows of painting and sculpture too. Artists to watch include documentary photographer Gábor Arion Kudász, and Áron Zsolt Majoros, who makes beautifully delicate objects from wood and metal. Visit also the downstairs section where they show more experimental works.
Godot Galéria (location; Tuesday to Friday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday 10 AM to 1 PM): Another early bird on Bartók Béla Boulevard, Godot Galéria represents an established group of Hungarian artists from the so called “middle-generation”. One of them is drMáriás, a provocative pop-art painter (often depicting Hungarian politicians, including the current prime minister). Another is Imre Bukta, whose paintings and installations portray the hopelessness of rural Hungary.
ART+TEXT (location, 1st floor, door bell #15; Tuesday to Friday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.): Founded in 2014, ART+TEXT is dedicated to providing a platform for the next generation of Central European artists (they also focus on post-war modernism). The venue itself, inside the spacious first floor apartment of a downtown art nouveau building, is worth the visit. One of their standouts is Adrian Kiss, a Transylvania-born, London-educated young artist with ambitious, large-scale installations. Another is sculptor and painter Katalin Hetey, whose improbable geometric shapes from the 1960s explored the boundaries of metal. Also, look out for the gallery’s English-language publications about Hungarian art, most recently the one titled “Neo-Avant-Garde Trends in Hungarian Art Photography”, which can be purchased in the gallery.
Resident Art Budapest (location, 2nd floor; Tuesday to Friday 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.): This apartment gallery is on the second floor of a grand Andrássy Avenue building, near the Opera House. Owner/manager János Schneller works with up-and-coming Hungarian painters of the so called early middle-generation (artists generally in their late 30s, early 40s) with an emphasis on traditional art forms like oil paintings. Note that Resident Art Budapest also organizes art-related walking tours (in English too) about Budapest’s contemporary art scene. To book a private tour, contact Mr. Schneller at [email protected]
Chimera-Project Gallery (location; Thursday 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.): This gallery is the brainchild of a Swiss art historian and a Hungarian sociologist. They represent a tight group of mostly young, often experimental artists from Central Europe. The emphasis here is clearly on conceptual art. With a strong international focus, the owners bring a level of professionalism and career management that’s still rare to find in this neck of the woods. Their annual Chimera Art Award aims to raise the profile of local artists.
Glassyard Gallery (location, 2nd floor; Tuesday to Saturday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.): Founded in 2017 by Tünde Csörgő and Barnabás Bencsik, this high-ceilinged second floor apartment gallery is only a stone’s throw away from Andrássy Avenue. As the former Director of Budapest’s Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, Mr. Bencsik is a heavyweight in Hungarian art circles with a broad network across the region. Glassyard currently represents six artists across a range of art forms including installations, photography, and paintings. One of them is István Csákány, whose ambitious wooden installations were displayed at the 2012 Documenta.
Dalma Eged is an Editor at ÚjMűvészet Magazine.