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 they struggled to get by and were effectively excluded from the international mainstream. Due to this isolation, however, they remained unburdened by market demands, 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 discernible 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 properly 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, which are otherwise 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.
Let’s look at some of the leading contemporary art galleries in Budapest. All the ones listed below get international visitors, and have English wall texts, often bilingual catalogs, and an English-speaking staff.
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 committed to launching 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).
acb Galéria (location; Tuesday to Friday 2 PM to 6 PM): 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 PM to 6 PM): 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 many well-known Hungarian 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 young, emerging Hungarian artists.
Vintage Galéria (location; Tuesday to Friday 2 PM to 6 PM): Hungary has a strong resume when it comes to photography (Robert Capa, László Moholy-Nagy, etc.). 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 prettiest downtown park (Károlyi-kert), its 19th century facade still bears the name of the perfumery (Molnár és Moser Laboratoriuma) that 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, who needs no introduction. Vintage publishes and sells excellent (bilingual) booklets about the works of their artists (many can also be downloaded online).
Deák Erika Galéria (location; Wednesday to Friday 12 PM to 6 PM, Saturday 11 AM to 4 PM): Hiding near the monumental Andrássy Avenue, Deák Erika Galéria is an integral member of the Budapest contemporary art scene (it was founded in 1998). They carry works of 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 PM to 6 PM): On the other side of the Danube River, the increasingly trendy Bartók Béla Way is teeming with art galleries and design stores. Founded in 1997 by Zsófi Faur, their key focus is contemporary photography, but one can run into exceptional solo shows of painting and sculpture too. Artists to watch include documentary photographer Gábor Arion Kudász, and Áron Zsolt Majoros, whose delicate, refined shapes of wood and metal render him one of the leading sculptors of his generation. Check out also the downstairs section where the more experimental works are on display.
Godot Galéria (location; Tuesday to Friday 9 AM to 2 PM, Saturday 10 AM to 1 PM): Another early bird on Bartók Béla Way, Godot Galéria represents an established group of Hungarian artists from the so called “middle-generation”. One of them is drMáriás, known for his provocative pop-art paintings (often depicting Hungarian politicians, including the prime minister). Another is Imre Bukta, whose paintings and installations creatively portray the hopelessness of contemporary rural Hungary.
ART+TEXT (location, 1st floor, door bell #15; Tuesday to Friday 12 PM to 6 PM): 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 works from the 1960s explored the boundaries of metal, often resulting in improbable geometric shapes. 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.
Resident Art Budapest (location, 2nd floor; Tuesday to Friday 2 PM to 7 PM): Another notable apartment gallery in Budapest 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 more traditional art forms like oil paintings. A separate showroom displays pieces of the gallery’s full roster of artists. Resident Art Budapest also organizes various art-related walking tours (in English too), where people get to learn about Budapest’s contemporary art scene and visit several exhibitions. To book a private tour, contact Mr. Schneller at [email protected]
Chimera-Project Gallery (location; Thursday 4 PM to 7 PM, Friday and Saturday 3 PM to 6 PM): Chimera-Project Galéria, the brain child of a Swiss art historian and a Hungarian sociologist, is known for representing a tight group of mostly young, often experimental artists from the region. The emphasis here is 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 also aims to raise the profile of emerging (international) artists.
Glassyard Gallery (location, 2nd floor; Tuesday to Saturday 2 PM to 6 PM): Glassyard Gallery was founded in 2017 by Tünde Csörgő and Barnabás Bencsik. It’s located in a high-ceilinged second floor apartment a stone’s throw away from Andrássy Avenue, known as Budapest’s Champs-Élysées. 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 over a range of art forms that include installations, photography, and paintings. One of them is István Csákány, whose ambitious wooden installations were on display at the 2012 Documenta.