A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit the capital and largest city of Hungary: Budapest. Having heard from several sources that Budapest is a hub for visual arts and culture, my main agenda was set with the view of visiting as many art galleries and museums as possible within my five day stay.
Having done my homework on which galleries to hit or miss, my first visit was to Műcsarnok – also known as Budapest Kunsthalle. Set alongside the infamous Heroes Square, Kunsthalle resides itself in a historic art hall built in 1896. With its grand entrance of six pillars and an ornately decorated façade, this gallery evoked in me similar feelings of majesty one has entering galleries such as Tate Britain or The National Gallery. Two exhibitions were on display in the gallery, one of which was a participatory, touring installation titled Goldenroach Unlimited. This project was set up by visual artist Miklós Kiss in 2011, and began as a smuggling of Goldroaches into prestigious exhibitions halls across Europe. The participatory element of this exhibition came to fore in the TAKE A ROACH* instruction; which of course I did and now I have my very own Goldenroach at home sitting on my desk… Following this display, I went to see the other exhibition which displayed two films by Iranian artist Shirin Neshat. I was particularly drawn to the film Zarin (2005) which follows the life of a Hungarian prostitute. The imagery throughout this film was visually stunning, and was dramatized by the pitch black backdrop of the space.
From Kunsthalle I walked down Andrássy Avenue in search a Mai Manó – The Hungarian House of Photography. This was the gallery I was most excited about visiting, more so for the architecture than anything else. Built for Mai Manó – the Imperial and Royal Court Photographer, this building is an eight-story neo-renaissance studio house which was constructed at the end of the nineteenth century. Within the house, original carved wooden staircases lead up to several floors where the original grandeur of the interior has been restored. The exhibition halls exist through several interconnecting spaces and exhibited photography of street art in Budapest: From Bartók to Banksy. On the second floor the daylight studio housed beautiful wall-size frescoes, providing an interior backdrop which transformed the space into something beyond a city studio house. This house was by far a highlight of my visit to Budapest, and is definitely worth seeing if you have the chance.
Next on my list was Iparművészeti Múzeum – Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest. Usually I tend to centre my focus on contemporary art; however I came across this gallery in my research and was attracted to its Art Nouveau architecture. With style inspiration from Hindu, Mogul and Islamic designs, the building was built between 1893-96 and parades lantern domes adorned with emerald green tiles on its roof. The Hungarian treasures housed within the building are just as beautiful as the external architectural features, and led to me spending over three hours in the space. Such treasures as embossed blown-glass vases, porcelain chess sets and gold pocket watches fill the cabinets of curiosity in this museum; something not to be missed upon a visit to Budapest.
The visual arts culture of Budapest was not only found in the museums and galleries I visited, but on every street and every house I passed. The street art I came across was skilful and vibrant, and the architecture of unassuming buildings was quirky and intriguing. Overall, my visit to Budapest was filled with new arts experiences and understandings. It is a city I would definitely visit again for its cultural vibrancy and buzzing arts scene.
Phoebe V. Bradford