“When it comes to collecting, international recognition is highly valued.”
What potential does the Hungarian contemporary art scene have? Definitely a great one, according to Annamária Molnár, the young and energetic owner of Ani Molnár Gallery and President of the Association of Hungarian Contemporary Art Galleries – a lately renewed initiative that combines local forces to reach international recognition. I had a lively conversation with Annamária about her professional strategies and the current trends and possibilities in the arts in Hungary.
Where do you personally see the strengths and weaknesses of the Hungarian contemporary art scene?
Annamária Molnár: In general, the art market is difficult as there are not enough collectors. It is a relatively small market compared to the Viennese, for example. But we have good artists and more and more are represented at significant international forums such as the Manifesta, the Documenta or the Istanbul Biennial. Additionally, contemporary galleries play a crucial and very active role in international integration by representing excellent artists at numerous art fairs. Last year we had a record number of fair’s participation which topped at 30. The most popular one was, of course, Viennafair, where six Hungarian galleries were present, but the list also includes the bigger ones like Art Basel, Frieze, FIAC and Artissima. All this originates from a relatively small country’s capital, which is a great success on its own that we can be proud of.
What impact, if any, do the current cultural policies in Hungary have on your work both theoretically and financially?
Annamária Molnár: The situation is tense. A firm, well-functioning institutional framework is essential to have plans on the long term, and now we certainly feel a great degree of uncertainty as conditions tend to change from one day to the other. The operation of the private gallery system is not hindered directly but the uncertainties regarding the interregnum at the Ludwig Contemporary Art Museum or the Kunsthalle Budapest, of course, have an impact on us as well.
What were the most important achievements of the association?
Annamária Molnár: The most important achievements were probably those which helped settle the ethical and professional differences that existed between the galleries. The relatively low public awareness of contemporary art and the limited number of collectors who focus on it are a big challenge for the galleries. We try to overcome this issue by organizing events and strengthening the presence of contemporary art in the media.
Are there any other major issues to solve?
Annamária Molnár: I think the VAT is one fundamental problem for Hungarian contemporary art galleries. It is much higher – currently 27% – than in the rest of Europe, and there is a lack of tax allowance concerning the purchase of contemporary art. Hence we started negotiations with the government in order to introduce more favorable and transparent regulations and to decrease the percentage of VAT which, in my view, would contribute and allow the Hungarian contemporary art market to pick up.
Have you already achieved any success?
Annamária Molnár: As a result of the negotiations with the cultural ministry we received funds to start our visitors program “Budapest Contemporary”, which aims to contribute to the integration of Hungarian art galleries into the international art scene. The program invites art professionals, curators, journalists, and museum directors to visit Budapest and thereby become acquainted with the Hungarian contemporary art scene.
What countries or regions are in your focus?
Annamária Molnár: We have invited guests from all over the world. So there is no specific focus. Our most recent guest was Beatrix Ruf, the director of Kunsthalle Zürich, whose visit was one of the highlights so far. The program has gained impetus, and more and more art professionals are becoming interested in our region. Visits by well-known professionals of the art world, such as Adam Budak from Washington, Fulya Erdemci from Turkey, or Jacopo Crivelli Visconti from São Paolo, give credence. The visitors always have a good time here, and we feel happy about the positive feedback, when it comes to evaluating their experiences. Apart from getting them closer to Hungarian artists and art scene the program’s ultimate result and aim is the opinion we got from our visitors.
What artworks can be sold nowadays in Hungary?
Annamária Molnár: It appears that paintings – both abstract and figurative – will always be easier to sell than, let’s say, a large-scale installation work. But it can be done. In general, there is a higher demand for classic media but there is interest in the more progressive genres as well. When we select what works to take to an international art fair, we always try to choose the most up-to-date pieces because it is these that fit well into the international mainstream and, at the same time, we raise awareness back home by including them.
Who are the major collectors and what do they tend to collect?
Annamária Molnár: The key collectors are generally from the more affluent upper middle class, company executives/owners but interestingly only a few are so-called billionaires… Most of them are 40+, with a general interest towards culture, engaged in business and show a keen eye for up-to-date works of art. They have a specific interest in mind when they select works; some prefer works that reflect on social issues, others take a liking to objects that are technically innovative. And possibly above all, international recognition is most highly prized when it comes to collecting.
How beneficial is the fact that the participation of contemporary art galleries at international art fairs is aided by governmental funds?
Annamária Molnár: Financial support is indispensable when it comes to participating at art fairs. Fortunately up to now the cultural ministry realizes the importance of participating at international art fairs. Galleries have been funded for some time and the new state secretary is intending to continue this tradition.
Talking about trends is also talking about names and personalities. Where do you see breakout points to the international level?
Annamária Molnár: I do not generally believe in a sudden breakout rather in a more systematic and long-term approach. The integration is a process that needs several factors like the continuous presence of Hungarian artists, curators, galleries, collectors in the international art world and a constant cooperation between these players and the local art scene as well. But a fairly recent example of a Hungarian artist receiving great international recognition was Dóra Maurer, who was an exhibitor at the Istanbul Biennal in 2011 and also appeared in several major international art magazines like ArtReview, which featured her on the cover page, and numerous early works of Dóra Maurer have been purchased by famed international collections. All of the guests of the Budapest Contemporary program specifically asked to meet her.
The Association was renewed in 2010 and aims to promote Hungarian contemporary art galleries locally and abroad. After the sudden death of Katalin Délceg (director of Dovin Gallery) in November 2010 Annamária Molnár was elected as the new president, and together with her team she set out to work on new ideas to aid the effectiveness of the Association. A new homepage was designed; they started organizing joint programs and became a member of the FEAGA (Federation of European Art Galleries Association). In 2012 they launched the international visitors program “Budapest Contemporary”.
Since 2011 Annamária Molnár has been the president of the Association of Hungarian Contemporary Art Galleries. Three years before, in 2008, she opened her own gallery Ani Molnár Gallery. Before that she worked in the business sector for 12 years and had a parallel life as an independent curator. When she started her gallery she lacked a professional forum where issues relating to commercial galleries could be discussed, therefore she was one of the gallerists, who promoted and helped the Association to function again after a longer break.