Budapest's Art Gallery Landscape
Budapest’s commercial art galleries date back to only a few decades ago, because during communism, which ended in Hungary in 1989, there wasn't a functional marketplace and state censorship monitored all cultural production within the fine arts. Artists were grouped into three categories—banned, accepted, or supported. Those who weren't supported by the state had to secretly display their works in private apartments and rely on a small circle of insider buyers. Many of them moonlighted at other jobs to get by. Centrally-approved artists, on the other hand, enjoyed a steady income from the state, but they were putting out works that were often painfully anachronistic—and politically uncontroversial—when compared internationally.
Today, Budapest’s art world is teeming with life. International buyers, both private and institutional, are showing keen interest in contemporary Hungarian art, especially conceptual works produced in the 1960s and '70s, a movement also known as "neo avant-garde." These works often blend Western influences with local characteristics, thereby creating a unique artistic language. Many of the galleries listed below also represent younger artists, who came of age after the fall of communism. Some of them are even recent art-school graduates.
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. Budapest's galleries host regular exhibits throughout the year—mainly between September and June, with free admission—and there are also local art fairs that bring together the key players. By far 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're curious about 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—drop by for a vernissage to scout for talent and meet the next generation.
Note that 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 12
#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 (fun fact: Eugene Wigner, Nobel-winning physicist, grew up in this building). 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, who represented Hungary at the 2017 Venice Biennale.
#2 - Várfok Galéria (location; Tuesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.): Opened in 1990, soon after the fall of the communist regime, Várfok is one of the oldest commercial galleries in Budapest. Today, it represents a cross-generational set of more than 20 local artists, including heavyweights like photographer Péter Korniss and the late Endre Rozsda. The more experimental works, often made by younger artists, are found across the street in their "Project Room." Being perched at the foot of the Castle Hill, you can conveniently pop in here after exploring Budapest's medieval Old City nearby.
#3 - 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 painters István Nádler and Ilona Keserü. The gallery dedicates floor space to the next generation, too: about half of the shows feature works by up-and-coming local artists.
#4 - Vintage Galéria (location; Tuesday to Friday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.): Situated by a cute park in downtown, Vintage focuses on photography from the '60s and '70s, 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.
#5 - 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.
#6 - Godot Galéria (location; Tuesday to Friday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 1 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 Godot Galéria, best known for representing the bad boys of Hungarian contemporary art, 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 - Viltin Galéria (location; Tuesday to Friday 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.): Viltin is a proof that there's more to Budapest's party district than just restaurants and drinking dens. Founded in 2008, the gallery puts special emphasis on contemporary renditions of traditional art forms like painting, sculpture, and drawing. Many of the local artists they represent come from the so-called middle generation, people in their 40s and 50s, like György Gáspár, but there also younger, naturally talented artists like Kata Tranker.
#8 - Inda Galéria (location; Tuesday to Friday 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.): Another top gallery inside Budapest's bustling old Jewish Quarter, Inda is tucked away on the second floor of a pre-war building, overlooking the historic Király Street. Inda is impossible to pigeonhole. Their diverse roster of 24 artists, most of whom are relatively young Hungarian women artists, cover an array of visual genre including paintings, photography, and installations.
#9 - Faur Zsófi Galéria (location; Monday to Friday 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.): Another gallery on Bartók Béla Boulevard is Zsófi Faur, 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 painter Zsófi Barabás, whose delicately flowing color patches are captivating. Visit also the downstairs section where the more experimental works are displayed.
#10 - 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.”
#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.
#12 - 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.
Dalma Eged is an Editor at ÚjMűvészet Magazine.
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