Openings Hungary

Budapest director’s double vision for national museum

Museum of Fine Arts head Laszlo Baan responds to extension cancellation with €150m proposal for two new buildings

International painting meets local photography: Manet’s "Jeanne Duval, The Mistress of Baudelaire", 1862, and Karoly Escher, "Bank Manager at the Baths", 1938

BUDAPEST. The director of Buda­pest’s Museum of Fine Arts (Szep­muvészeti Muz­eum) has outlined his new vision to transform the display of visual art in the Hungarian capital, after the disappointment in February when politicians scrapped a planned extension to the institution (The Art Newspaper, April, p20).

“I have suggested to the government [that we] build two new museum buildings,” said Laszlo Baan. “One a so-called ‘New Gallery’ where we would show Hungarian and European modernity through to the ­contemporary period. The other building would be used to show Hungarian photography. It would be a special museum island—complementing the existing Museum of Fine Arts and Mucsarnok (Kunsthalle) with the new galleries—where all the main state heritage of Hungarian and European art would be shown.”

Baan’s plan is that Hungary should use its art collection to place Hungarian art within a European context, while at the same time promoting Hungarian art and Hungarian museums to a wider international public.

Cur­rently, the bulk of the state-owned art displayed in Budapest is divided into two halves, with the National Gallery in Buda showing Hungarian work, while the Mus­eum of Fine Arts, across the Dan­ube in Pest, displays an important collection of Euro­pean masters.

In support of his proposal for the new museums, Baan cites the example of two recent exhibitions at London’s Royal Academy: “Eyewitness: Hungarian Photo­graphy in the 20th Century”, which is set to open on 30 June, and 2010’s “Treasures from Buda­pest”. While the former exhibition reiterates the importance of Hungarian photographers such as Brassai and Robert Capa, the latter brought together Hungarian and European painting from both the Museum of Fine Arts and the National Gallery.

Were the new museums to be built, Baan believes the two collections could be permanently joined with Hungarian work shown alongside contemporaneous European pieces. “The re-unification would be an important argument for the riches of Hungarian art. This is the Euro­pean model—to show work in an international context—not the separation. That was a Soviet model as a result of which, in 1957, the communist government decided to establish the Hung­ar­ian National Gallery by removing the Hungarian works from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts,” Baan said.

The new plan, which would amount to a comprehensive overhaul of Budapest’s museum scene, was developed after the government’s cancellation in February of an €18m underground extension to the Museum of Fine Arts. Baan had seen the planned extension as an important phase of modernisation, but the right-of-centre Fidesz government, which came to power after the project had originally been sanctioned, has instead called for a rethink.

Though consultation remains at a preliminary stage, recent government press releases have approved the building of at least one new museum on Baan’s preferred construction site, a narrow strip of land behind Budapest’s Mucsarnok exhibition hall which stands opposite the Museum of Fine Arts on Heroes’ Square.

The director predicts that building two new museums would cost around €150m. Should the government back him, Baan wants an international competition to be launched in 2013 to find architects for the new museums, with a view to completing construction by 2017.

He said that the scale of his proposals would require all the relevant stakeholders to unite behind them: “It is in the interests of Hungarian art. I hope that this idea will receive support from all major political participants. We need to have two years for discussion. Government, the city council, art historians, media—they all need to be united.”

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