When visiting Budapest, most travellers include in their “must see” agenda visits to monuments like the Buda Castle and the St. Stephen’s Basilica; and museums like the Hungarian National Gallery and the Hungarian National Museum. But if you are also interested in finding out a bit of the energy that drives up modern-day Budapest maybe it is time to deviate a bit from your itinerary.
Amid its classical treasures, the city hides small galleries and cultural centers that give a glimpse of the artistic, design and architectural work that has been produced by contemporary Hungarians. And those surprisingly nice places are just right under your nose – close to the iconic boulevard of Andrássy Avenue or the lively Ferenciek Square.
One place to lose yourself is Fuga or Budapest Center for Architecture, a multifunctional space just a few blocks from Ferenciek Square that works as a gallery, a radio studio, a workshop area, a cafe and a bookstore. Architecture is the motto at Fuga but lovers of fine arts, classical music and jazz, cinema, theater, literature and science will also feel at home there. The place has an eclectic calendar presenting and discussing current trends in arts – besides that you can just sit, have an espresso and enjoy (even if you cannot understand Hungarian) the Fuga Radio programs being transmitted live from the center.
If you are willing to go off-script and also love photography you should go to Vintage Galéria, a tiny gallery close to Astoria, one of the major junctions in the heart of Budapest. Vintage’s collection includes shots of modern photographers like André Kertesz and László Moholy-Nagy but the place also wants to give more publicity to the local visual arts scene, said Attila Pöcze, founder and director of the gallery, and displays the works of contemporary artists.
New meets old
The neo-renaissance building that houses the Mai Manó House, with its red and green portentous facade, is an attraction by itself. The building was the home and workplace of Mai Manó – who was granted the title “imperial and royal court photographer” of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – before becoming a center of contemporary photography in Budapest.
The rooms on the first and second floors feature exhibitions on various trends in photography presenting local and foreign shooters. On the second floor is the Daylight Studio – a room that was used as a photography studio lit by the natural sunlight shining through the huge windows – that also houses art events and book presentations.
Just a few blocks from Mai Manó House is the Ernst Museum. Installed in an art nouveau style building, the museum focuses on thematic exhibitions that represent the latest trends in visual arts with a special emphasis on the Hungarian works – probably following the legacy of its founder, Lajos Ernst, a private collector who wanted to make Magyar art widely available for the public in the beginning of the 20th century.
Discover the hidden gems
There are many more art spaces devoted to new ideas in Hungarian culture. Walk slowly, open your eyes and you will probably find an amazing place. Or try to talk to locals – it is very likely that they will be happy to suggest their favorite treasure. That is how I got to the Vintage Gallery and the Ernst Museum.
Fuga: Petőfi Sándor Street 5 :: Opens from Monday to Sunday from 10 am to 9 pm
Vintage Gallery: Magyar Street 26 :: Opens from Tuesday to Friday from 2 pm to 6 pm
Mai Manó House of Photography: Nagymező Street 20 :: Opens on weekdays from 2 pm to 7 pm; on the weekend from 11 am to 7 pm
Ernst Museum: Nagymező Street 8 :: Opens from Tuesday to Sunday from 11 am to 7 pm
By Eliza Muto