The Art Gallery Landscape
Budapest’s commercial art galleries date back to only a few decades ago because there wasn't a functional marketplace during communism and state censorship restricted all cultural production, especially within the fine arts. 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 market was both a blessing and a curse for local artists. A curse, because they struggled financially and were largely cut off from the Western art movements. Paradoxically, however, being out on a limb inspired art that was not only abstract, but infused with black humor and covert disobedience as artists were testing the boundaries of state control.
Today, Budapest’s art world paints a very different picture. International buyers for contemporary Hungarian art are showing interest, especially for works secretly produced during the communist-era, a field still largely undiscovered. To leverage this, galleries began to systematically catalog lesser known, clandestine artistic movements from the time. They also participate in international art fairs like the viennacontemporary to build awareness.
Given that the market is still small, most galleries don’t specialize in a single art movement or time period, instead carrying works across a range of styles. They have regular exhibits throughout the year—mainly between September and June, with free admission—and there are also local art fairs, which bring together the key players. The most famous is Art Market Budapest, a fall event attended by hundreds of Hungarian and international galleries. Art Capital, usually in June, takes place in the charming city of Szentendre, known for its artist communities. The OFF-Biennale is a grass-roots initiative, also featuring smaller galleries from outside Budapest. Budapest Art Week, in the spring, presents both museums and gallery exhibits.
If you like earlier epochs, Kieselbach and Virág Judit galleries are the two heavyweights specializing in Hungarian artworks from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Both of them are on Falk Miksa Street, an area known for its antique stores and auction houses. Labor and Studio (FKSE) serve as springboards to recent graduates of the University of Fine Arts—stop by here at a vernissage to scout for talent and meet the next generation.
Most galleries in Budapest are closed on Mondays and on the weekend. It’s best to give them a heads-up before you go, even if it's during open hours (see contact details below). All of the galleries listed below are used to international visitors—usually there are English wall texts and the staff will speak English.
The Top 11
#1 - acb Galéria (location; Tuesday to Friday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.): Once you find the nondescript entrance, saunter through the atmospheric pre-war courtyard to get to acb, Budapest’s leading gallery. They specialize in the Hungarian neo avant-garde (1960s and ‘70s), having contributed to foreign shows on the topic, most recently Elizabeth Dee’s highly praised exhibit in New York City. Acb's artists include internationally-known figures such as Katalin Ladik, one of the performance artists at documenta 14, Imre Bak, an abstract painter with works at the Tate, and Gyula Várnai, whose represented Hungary at the 2017 Venice Biennale.
#2 - Kisterem Galéria (location; Tuesday to Friday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.): Located on a charming downtown side street, Kisterem is one of the most international galleries in Budapest with regular appearances at art fairs like Art Rotterdam, LISTE, viennacontemporary, Art Cologne, Frieze London, and FIAC. Similar to acb, Kisterem represents established neo avant-garde artists, including abstract painter István Nádler. The gallery dedicates floor space to the next generation, too: about half of the shows feature works by up-and-coming local artists.
#3 - Vintage Galéria (location; Tuesday to Friday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.): Situated by a cute park in downtown, Vintage focuses on neo avant-garde photography, representing Dóra Maurer, a renowned experimental artists who had a solo show in 2016 at the White Cube gallery in London, and also Andre Kertész. They also publish excellent (bilingual) booklets about their artists.
#4 - 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 within traditional disciplines like painting and sculpture. Among others, they represent the increasingly-well-known Attila Szűcs, the radically abstract Márton Nemes, and op-art artist József Bullás.
#5 - Faur Zsófi Galéria (location; Monday to Friday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.): Many art galleries line the increasingly hopping Bartók Béla Boulevard on the Buda side of the Danube. One of the early birds was Zsófi Faur's gallery, specializing in contemporary photography, but you can also run into excellent solo shows of painting and sculpture. Artists to watch include documentary photographer Gábor Arion Kudász, and Áron Zsolt Majoros, who makes delicate objects from wood and metal. Visit also the downstairs section where the more experimental works are displayed.
#6 - Godot Galéria (location; Tuesday to Friday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.): Another early bird on Bartók Béla Boulevard, Godot Galéria represents the best of Hungary's “middle-generation,” including drMáriás, whose provocative portrait series have also featured the current prime minister, and Imre Bukta, known for paintings that depict the hopelessness of rural Hungary.
#7 - ART+TEXT (location, 1st floor, door bell #15; Tuesday to Friday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.): ART+TEXT provides a platform for the next generation of Central European artists, while also focusing on post-war modernism. The venue itself, inside the grand apartment of a downtown art nouveau building, is worth a visit. Their artists include sculptor and painter Katalin Hetey, whose geometric shapes explore the boundaries of metal, and Adrian Kiss, a Transylvanian-born, London-educated young man with ambitious installations. The gallery also publishes English-language art books, most recently the one titled “Neo Avant-Garde Trends in Hungarian Art Photography.”
#8 - 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 art nouveau, art deco, and communist-era posters, and include some truly unique pieces designed by seminal figures of modern Hungarian art. It's an appointment-only gallery, so try to peruse their online catalogue before you go.
#9 - Resident Art Budapest (location, 2nd floor; Tuesday to Friday 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.): This apartment gallery on Andrássy Avenue is run by János Schneller, who works with up-and-coming Hungarian painters of the early middle-generation (artists in their late 30s, early 40s) with an emphasis on traditional art forms like oil paintings. He 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]
#10 - 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 group of young conceptual artists from across Central Europe. The owners bring a level of international focus and professional career management that's still not common in this part of the world.
#11 - Glassyard Gallery (location, 2nd floor; Tuesday to Saturday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.): This high-ceilinged apartment gallery has strong credentials as one of its owners, Barnabás Bencsik, was the Director of Budapest's Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art. Glassyard currently represents five artists across a range of art forms including installations, photography, and paintings. One of them is István Csákány, whose wooden installations appeared at the 2012 Documenta.
Dalma Eged is an Editor at ÚjMűvészet Magazine.