Against all expectations, Budapest’s art scene is flourishing. Meet the movers and shakers leading the way

In the contemporary art world, the ability to survive – and even thrive – largely depends on freedom of expression and a certain level of permissiveness if not support from official channels. But in countries like Hungary, where public funding is dwindling and where governments sometimes even take hostile measures against art, rather than a cultural wasteland, you’ll find surprisingly fertile ground for local talent.

Earlier this month, the Ludwig Museum in Budapest hosted the launch of János Háy’s book consisting of short texts associated with drawings by the late Roma Dadaïste, OMARA (Mara Oláh), one of Hungary’s best-known painters and yet misunderstood. At the first Roma pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2007, OMARA presented billionaire financier George Soros with his Glass Eye. Shocked he let it down, but from that moment on he started supporting his work.

His paintings, ranging from works on canvas that unravel Roma identity and the vulnerability that his community has historically faced, were perhaps not unknown to the young crowd of progressive art who gathered in the Ludwig Museum recently. But for critics, who point out that the museum receives the majority of its funding from the right-wing nationalist party in power in Hungary Fidesz, the idea that such an artist should be collected and celebrated in the institution has perhaps only raises eyebrows for a few years. There are. The situation in Hungary is changing, however, and all is not as politically and culturally polarizing as it seems.

According to Peter Bencze, the founder of Everyone needs art, one of the city’s most active independent curators and a self-proclaimed “hybrid gallerist”, Budapest’s art scene benefits enormously from a strong and supportive local community. “I think part of what makes an artist like OMARA so interesting is her ability to fluctuate between different social strata, an aspect of her work which in my opinion represents the best of Hungarian art in general,” did he declare. Artnet news.

In addition, a number of new independent institutions have started to emerge. Over the past couple of years, despite the global pandemic, the abundance of cheap and affordable studios to rent in Budapest has also gone a long way in supporting the city scene.

Aqb, a 4,000-square-foot studio and gallery complex founded by German-born entrepreneur Wolfgang Bartesch in 2004, is home to dozens of contemporary artists, including a number who advance the Hungarian scene in remarkable ways.

Zsófia Keresztes in her studio. Photo: Éva Szombat

One of them, Zsófia Keresztes, will represent the country at the Venice Biennale 2022. Keresztes is known for her incredibly ornate sculptures covered with colorful tesserae, her large post-figurative works that explore themes such as identity and mysticism. His show in Venice, After Dreams: I dare to defy the damage, curated by Mónika Zsikla, is partly based on a scene from the book by Hungarian writer Antal Szerb from 1937 Moonlight trip, on a young man who discovers childhood memories through mosaics.

Aqb is also home to the art duo Lőrinc Borsos, which in November presented an installation at Art Cologne this year in a section on queer art in Budapest. The artists, known for their weirdly macabre carvings and hosting the city’s best underground raves, have become something like the terrible children from Budapest.

The terrible children of Budapest Lőrinc Borsos are known for their macabre sculptures as well as their underground raves

Another artist installed in aqb, Botond Keresztesi, has become one of Hungary’s most exciting painters, whose diverse inspiration ranges from futurism to action film pulp RoboCop, from the medieval painter Cimabue to other greats of the Italian Renaissance. Si Keresztesi has made a name for himself abroad, working with major international galleries such as Derouillon Gallery in Paris and The hole in New York, he keeps a relatively low profile at home.

Also taking their work beyond Hungary, the Budapest-based artist collective OFF Biennale recently announced the premiere of 14 projects at next year’s Documenta international exhibition in Kassel, Germany. The work will examine how ecology, Eastern European nationalism and the political imagination are transforming society today.

But it’s not just artists who are transforming Budapest. With galleries like Ani Molnar and Trafo, which both have a long history in the city, a new cohort of spaces is starting to germinate, including Q Contemporary. a sprawling new contemporary art space opened in 2020 by Hong Kong heiress and art collector Queenie Rosita Law. His new gallery in Hong Kong, Double Q, will also mainly represent artists from Central and Eastern Europe, such as Márton Nemes, József Csató and Gizella Rákóczy. “One of my goals is to provide a platform for emerging and historically neglected artists,” Law said. Artnet news. “I would like to extend their career beyond the region.

In November, Hungarian real estate collector and investor Zoltán Aczél invited selected members of the press to visit a contemporary art center that will soon open in Budapest. This will be the third location that Aczél will open to house its growing collection of contemporary and modern art. Named after Aczél’s late mother, the Éva Kahán Foundation already has a place in Budapest and one in the second district of Vienna, named after the late mother of Aczél, the Éva Kahán Foundation already has a place in Budapest, alongside another in the second district of Vienna, where Foundation works by the likes of Gustav Klimt are shown alongside younger artists like Monika Grabuschnigg and Andreas Greiner. Located in a former industrial warehouse, the new space is being renovated to the tune of € 3 million and should open its doors in early 2022.

Collector Zoltán Aczél is opening a third location to display works from his Éva Kahán Foundation in an industrial warehouse outside Budapest. Photo: Dorian Batycka.

The foundation brings together mainly artists from Central and Eastern Europe, notably thanks to a well-funded residency in San Sano, Tuscany, where 10 artists have been invited to create new works on site next year. “The region has an incredible wealth of original artists who are just starting to gain international recognition,” said Marie-Ève ​​Lafontaine, artistic director of the foundation. Artnet news. “These artists, for better or for worse, have always had to grapple with a legacy of subtly political and ideologically motivated creative production, which is of course partly the result of their own history and partly the result of the geopolitical situation. current. “

The concentration of artistic talent in Budapest makes the city attractive to other collectors as well. Last year, several Hungarian collectors set up a committee called “Friends of Contemporary Art” which pools their money to support new acquisitions for the collection of the Hungarian National Gallery (MNG). Each committee member receives € 10,000 to purchase works for the museum. The group – created by Acb gallery founder Gábor Pados, along with collectors Katalin Spengler and Zsolt Somlói, Attila Brezóczki, László Vágó and Sándor Gönczy— aims to support emerging artists and foster artistic growth in Hungary.

With so much going on, Budapest now feels more alive than ever. With artists benefiting from cheap and affordable workshops, as well as new collectors entering the market, it looks like the historic Danube city is once again poised to become one of Europe’s most exciting art destinations. .

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