Welcome the chance to stroll through the museums and galleries of Budapest again
Budapest’s museums and galleries may soon be open to visitors who can prove they have been vaccinated. Hearing this made me realize how much I missed spending hours in the city’s great temples of culture and funky spaces.
Additionally, it made me realize how important it has been to my ever-evolving understanding of Budapest and Hungarian culture.
Two exhibitions seem particularly memorable to me, the retrospective of Péter Korniss’s work at the Hungarian National Gallery which took place from September 2017 to February 2018 and the permanent exhibition at the Vasarely Múzeum nestled in Óbuda.
Apart from the fact that Korniss photography introduces me to aspects of Hungary and in particular Transylvania, I had no idea of existence, I had the great pleasure of meeting and interviewing the man himself.
“I was born in Transylvania and I still feel very Transylvanian. We moved to Budapest when I was 12. I would have liked to be a lawyer but in 1956, after the revolution, I was expelled from the law school of Eötvös Loránd University. I did not do anything special. I was not a hero. I just had to be a little too loud, ”he told me.
“After the revolution, there was a depression. I had to do several jobs to survive. I found a job as a photo dryer in the so-called Andrássy Avenue Photographic Cooperative. After a while, I started to freelance as a photographer for the weekly sports magazine. I found a job with “Nők Lapja”, the most popular women’s magazine, in 1961 and worked there for 30 years. I ended up as an image editor and an art editor, ”he recalls.
Korniss’ photographs of villagers from Eastern Europe particularly impressed me. He started taking pictures of the villagers and their world in 1967. At that time, he says, Hungarians “knew very little about real life in Transylvania because at the time the socialists did not want to stir up nationalism. “.
Upon his return from Transylvania with his first photos, Korniss was asked if the villagers dressed in their colorful costumes especially for him. “They live like this,” he replied.
For this reason, Korniss waited over 30 years before showing the two photos that impressed me the most, “Girl Turning the Hay” and “Resting Haymaker”. Even then, people still asked her if the girl in the photos was a model.
The exhibition of Korniss’ work spanned almost 60 years and one of the most remarkable things was the undiminished power of the images.
A series called “Tradition” (2005 to 2012) included “The Nativity Players in the Allotment”. The players of the Transylvanian Nativity scene are shown in their traditional costume against the urban and gritty setting of Debrecen.
When I met Korniss, I told him that the photos from the “Tradition” series made me think he was a young Turkish man contemporary with a photographer. He was delighted. Now I realize that Korniss was the first Hungarian gentleman I met.
The Victor Vasarely Museum in Szentlélek tér is about as far away from the enormous and grand Hungarian National Gallery as it gets. It’s also in Óbuda which, if you want to explore another side of Budapest, is perfect.
I couldn’t wait to see Vasarely’s work because the only thing I knew about him, or him, was that one of his paintings was used as the backdrop for “Space Oddity”, the 1969 album. by David Bowie.
Vasarely was born in Pécs (209 km south-east of Budapest by road) in 1906. After giving up medicine in 1927, he began to study painting. That changed when he enrolled at Műhely or Atelier, the Bauhaus study center in Budapest. Here he learned typographic design and graphic art.
He left Hungary, arrived in Paris in 1930 and spent the rest of his life in the City of Light, dying there in 1997.
Talking about Vasarely to my Hungarian partner, what surprised me was how well known he is here. She told me that every Hungarian child knows her 1938 painting “Zebras”. Apparently, a school visit to the other Vasarely museum in Pécs is part of a typical Hungarian education.
Hopefully all these art-thirsty Hungarian children will soon be wandering around the country’s museums and galleries. There are a lot of benefits to be gained from viewing art in the real world.
While following my nose online, I came across something called the Nord-Trondelag Health Study. This survey covered 130,000 Norwegians aged 13 and over. The study asked more than 50,000 men and women how often they participated in cultural activities that included visiting galleries and museums.
The study apparently found that there was a clear link between participation in cultural activities and better health, contentment, and less anxiety and depression. These benefits were as evident in people who consume art as they were in the artists themselves.
Perhaps less surprising is the results of a 2014 University of Arkansas student study. After polling over 100,000 students, the study found that between 70% and 88% of them said they became more tolerant and empathetic after a field trip to an art museum.
The findings of Professor Semir Zeki, a British neurobiologist at the University of London, are more interesting and in line with Budapest’s reputation as a romantic city. He scanned the brains of the volunteers to see what happened when they viewed 28 pieces of art.
When the volunteers saw artwork that they thought was beautiful, it released the neurotransmitter dopamine in their brains. Dopamine is associated with feeling loved, in love, and in the mood for fun.
Race to the gallery.
This article first appeared in the print issue of the Budapest Business Journal on May 7, 2021.