Krisztina Kovács is the Director of Várfok, one of the leading contemporary art galleries in Hungary. She has curated hundreds of shows and together with owner Károly Szalóky they have built a model gallery in Budapest that could stand up to any globally. For years, I’ve been following her on Instagram and recently I had the privilege to attend one of her gallery tours and catch up with her.
Which neighborhood do you like to hang out in?
I’ve been working at Várfok Gallery for more than 13 years which means I’ve grown attached to the Castle Hill where our gallery is located. This is the oldest section of the city, with layers of history built upon one another. I like to imagine the hillsides covered with vineyards, the medieval village of Logod where runs today’s Logodi utca, the old hay market of Széna tér, and the athletic facilities that lined Széll Kálmán tér before it became a transportation hub.
In 1945, toward the end of WWII, there were weeks of heavy fighting here between the German and Soviet troops. In fact, the final breakout of the encircled German soldiers was through Várfok and the nearby streets. After the war, they used rail cars to clear the rubble and apparently parts of the rails were never removed: During a recent renovation of the gallery, we found the remains of a rail line built into a wooden beam.
Where do you usually go for coffee or a drink?
When I’m in the mood for wine, I’ll surely go to Galéria 12 on Hajnóczy utca. It’s a wonderfully cozy little place with a group of regular customers. János will quickly gauge your taste in wine and recommend the perfect option.
Is there a lowkey restaurant you like to drop in for a quick meal?
Unfortunately I don’t usually have time to go out for lunch but even when I bring my own food or order in I try to make it nice; for example I set the table and don’t use plastic utensils. For takeout, I often order from Zing Burger, Good Karma, and IDE pizza. And from Khan, which is a cool Vietnamese restaurant where I also go for casual dinner with friends.
How about for a sitdown dinner?
Near here, I love the risottos of Riso restaurant and the vibes of Mezzo. During a recent meal at MÁK Bistro, on the Pest side, the service totally knocked me off my feet. I didn’t think this type of hospitality still existed.
Besides your home base at Várfok Gallery, what are some places you visit to see local art?
Before joining Várfok, I worked at the Museum of Fine Arts, specializing in the early Renaissance period so I’m partial to their exhibits, both permanent and temporary. For local art, I highly recommend the shows of the Vasarely and the Kiscelli museums. In addition to fine art, I love contemporary music and there’s a thriving scene locally with many concerts. The Budapest Music Center is like a second home to me.
Similar to Ödön Lechner in architecture or Béla Bartók in music, are there any internationally renowned Hungarian painters?
Perhaps not as famous and influential as Béla Bartók, but László Moholy-Nagy and Victor Vasarely are widely known. It’s within the field of photography that Hungary has had many world-class artists such as Robert Capa, André Kertész, and Brassai, although they all became prominent after moving abroad.
From your roster of artists, who would you bring to the attention of contemporary art fans?
We represent artists across different generations. We are extremely proud to have the hundred-year-old Françoise Gilot, who is a living legend of art history. Our youngest artist is the 31-year-old Anna Nemes, whose show is coming up next. She depicts human bodies with incredible technical detail and deep sensitivity. She also works as a film director, in fact her co-directed movie titled “Gentle” premiered at Sundance this year. I’d also highlight János Szirtes, both as a painter and a performer, who is one of the most versatile artists in Hungary today.
What tip would you give for Budapest visitors to get the most out of their time in the city?
Enjoy the panoramic views from the Fisherman’s Bastion, be sure to go to a bath, and I also wouldn’t miss Budapest’s latest treasure, the House of Music in the City Park. In addition, I think visitors can pick up something about life in Budapest from visiting contemporary art galleries. Apart from meeting the artists, the artworks themselves often convey a sense of place and reveal a slice of the local culture.