The 10 Best Contemporary Artists From Hungary

Helen Armitage

In years gone by Hungary’s contemporary art has stayed comparatively under the radar, but nowadays – thanks to the effort of its dedicated galleries and art mavens – the country’s burgeoning art scene is gaining attention. We profile ten talented artists contributing to Hungary’s growing arty reputation – from photographer Bence Bakonyi to Balázs Kicsiny and his surreal large-scale installations.

Rita Ackermann, Heroines 2, 2014, Ink, pigment on canvas, 230 x 295.3 x 3 cm / 90 1/2 x 116 1/4 x 1 1/8 in

Rita Ackermann

Budapest-born artist Rita left her native Hungary for New York City in the early 1990s where she studied at the New York School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture and quickly found a niche in both the city’s art world and underground scene for her provocative paintings populated by other-worldly nymphs. Deftly working across the mediums of painting, drawing and collage, Ackermann’s work today has taken on an aesthetic that straddles the line between figuration and abstraction as seen in her most recent exhibitions at Hauser & Wirth in Zurich and New York though she retains a provocative bent, collaborating with the likes of controversial filmmaker Harmony Korine in 2010 on their joint collage project Shadow Fux.

Bence Bakonyi, Segue no. 10, 100×125 cm, 1 of 5 + AP, 2013-2014

Bence Bakonyi

A 2014 graduate of Budapest’s Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, photographer Bence Bakonyi is fast emerging as one of Hungary’s most sought-after artists. His works, while wholly contemporary and youthful, explore the issues of freedom, airiness and transubstantiation with Bakonyi drawn to scenes that provide connection between reality and fantasy and leave the viewer pondering the concept of human existence. This aesthetic is most evident in the works Bakonyi produced while living in China: his Cognition series (2013) captures the shared human experience of tourists exploring rural China while Segue (2013-2014) is a series of urban, manmade landscapes strangely devoid of people that reflects the artist’s experience as an outsider in his temporary home.

Marianne Csaky, Time Leap – Garden 1, Lightjet print, silk, 147 x 100 cm, 2008

Marianne Csaky

Based between Brussels and Budapest, Marianne Csaky works with a wide range of media – including photography, painting, sculpture, video, installation and embroidery – and since starting out in the early 1990s has had her works exhibited in galleries in New York, Germany and China to name but a few. Focusing on memory, representation, desire and subjectivity Csaky examines how these factors play into our defining and redefining of roles in society and history. Often, she combines personal elements from past and present like family photographs – as with her Time Leap series (2007-2008) – to explore how familial history and childhood experience construct current identities.

Balázs Kicsiny, Killing Time IV, 2012-2014, Mixed media installation of four fully dressed life-size cast fiberglass figures with video camera helmets, steel and plywood motorized spinning disk, wood video table with two video monitors, curtains, PVC floor, Inda Gallery, Budapest, Hungary, 2014 | Photo by Miklós Sulyok/© Balázs Kicsiny 2015

Balázs Kicsiny

Born in Salgótarján in 1958, Balázs Kicsiny is known for his ’frozen performances’ – site-specific, large-scale installations depicting surreal, theatrical and unnerving scenes of faceless figures captured mid activity. Alongside being awarded the Munkácsy Hungarian State Art Award in 1992, Kicsiny has exhibited his works in galleries across the globe and in 2005 was invited to represent Hungary at the prestigious Venice Biennale. His 2012 multimedia installation Killing Time was shown at St Louis’ Kemper Art Museum – marking the artist’s first US museum exhibition – featured his signature frozen in time, stage scenes populated by life-size, masked figures menacingly wielding knives.

Eszter Szabó, The Anatomy of The Flock vol I., 2015, videoloop, 4 min 30 sec

Eszter Szabó

Budapest-based painter and video artist Eszter Szabó graduated from the Hungarian University of Fine Arts in 2006 and since has shown her works in solo exhibitions in New York, Paris and Brussels alongside receiving the coveted Derkovits Scholarship – which supports emerging Hungarian artists – in 2010. Szabó observes the minutiae of everyday life and recreates it in her paintings and animations to comment on socio-political life in post-Communist society. Her most recent work The Anatomy of The Flock vol I – a looped video of animated characters the artist painted on a real estate advert – going through their daily, private lives is what the artist has termed meditation on ‘credulity, indifference, apathy and infantility.’

Emese Benczúr, Should I Live to Be a Hundred – Day by Day I Think About the Future, 1998, Manifesta 2., Luxembourg, manufactured clothing label, 2500 m, LUMU, Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest

Emese Benczúr

Over her twenty year career, Budapest-born Emese Benczúr has not only been the recipient of two coveted Hungarian art prizes – the Derkovits Scholarship in 2003 and the Munkácsy Award in 2006 – but was also invited to exhibit her art at the Hungarian Pavilion during the 48th Venice Biennale. Installation-based, Benczúr’s art takes the form of messages – whether scrawled on a wall or crafted from found objects – that demand the viewer’s attention and interaction. Perhaps her best known work, Should I Live to Be a Hundred – Day by Day I Think About the Future, was exhibited at the Manifesta European Biennial of Contemporary Art in Luxembourg and the ICA-D in Hungary.

Gyula Várnai, Rainbow, 2013, installation (paint, metal pins), varying dimensions

Gyula Várnai

Widely considered one of the most important artists to emerge from Hungary’s contemporary art scene, Gyula Várnai is a largely self-taught artist and recipient of the prestigious Munkácsy Award who creates installation art from numerous media – collage, light and sound, everyday objects and sculpture – that craft a poetic visual link between the material medium and immaterial subject matter. His latest exhibition at Budapest’s acb Galéria, Sense of Time, referred to socialist reform in 1960s Hungary and proffered a critique of the tools and strategies used by ruling forces to exert control over individuals and how they recur throughout history.

Csaba Nemes, Stage, 200×200 cm, oil on canvas, 2014

Csaba Nemes

Born in Kisvárda in 1966, Csaba Nemes has worked with various art mediums over the course of his career – including painting, drawing, film and photography – though his works have retained a consistent element: the depiction of past and present issues in Hungarian society in reference to both the public and personal. Works like the animated film REMAKE (2007) dealt with the political, reinterpreting the 2006 anti-government protests in Hungary, and more recent works have addressed the treatment of Hungary’s Roma population, while Nemes’ ongoing Father’s Name series – paintings based on photographs his father took in the 1960s and 1970s – address the overlap between personal memory and political history.

Gergő Kovách, Does not matter, ed.27, 15x17x11 cm, painted bronze, 2009

Gergő Kovách

Sculptor Gergő Kovách, a 1998 graduate of the Hungarian University of Fine Arts, is renowned in his native art scene for his playful, ironic figures that reference the state of contemporary Hungarian society. Working with a range of materials including bronze, stone and pur-foam, Kovách creates figures both small- and large-scale that combine elements from human, animal and mythological beings – surreal, fairy tale-like creatures simultaneously kitsch and disquieting in appearance whose amalgamated forms nod to humankind’s constantly evolving state of mind. His latest exhibition, Tolera, at Budapest’s Deák Erika Galéria – featuring his signature surreal creatures including a human-dinosaur hybrid – was typical of his oeuvre.

Lajos Csontó

Budapest-born Lajos Csontó’s works are guided by a simple viewpoint, ‘behind the everyday façade of the world there is another, hidden world,’ and through his signature chalk-based drawings, cartoon-like scenes, photography and video installations – often found anchored by large, attention-demanding text – he seeks to invite viewers into this hidden world. His 2014 Inda Galéria exhibition, Come With Me, raised questions about the multi-faceted influences on contemporary art while his site-specific installation Run With Me was recently exhibited at Budapest’s MOM Park shopping center as part of a public art project held in collaboration with Ani Molnár Gallery.

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