ACBGallery, Budapest (“Series Young Galleries in Eastern Europe”)

This is the first in a series of essays in which we will introduce new gallery ventures in East-Central Europe. For the longest time the idea that the commercial success of art galleries in East-Central Europe is inversely proportional to the quality of the work they show seemed to be written in stone. In this series we want to give gallerists a chance to comment, introduce their spaces, and update us on the situation faced by anyone who wants to show and, horribile dictu, sell contemporary art in the former Eastern Bloc today.

The acb contemporary art gallery is the newest gallery in Budapest, Hungary. The enterprise works on a commercial basis; its goal is to generate revenue by selling contemporary visual artworks. Information, resumes, documentation, and mission statement are available at (Slide Show).

The Institutional Context of ACBGallery

The institutional structure of the traditional forms of “Western-type” fine arts (painting, graphics, sculpture) underwent radical transformation in the 20th century. In the redefined social context, the art of autonomous creators appeared in forms which induced institutional transformation. The role of commercial art galleries, national and local art galleries and non-profit exhibition centers became dominant.

Parallel with the appearance of the so-called “new pictorial forms” (photography, film, video, digital pictures) and the “new genres” (happening, performance, installation, process-art, intermedia art, net-art), the institutions mediating the material and the symbolic value of art works diverged.

Furthermore, following the Second World War the particular political-economic situation of the countries of Central Europe brought about an even more complex equation: “official” art becoming non-art came to the fore within the legitimized frames of the institutional system, while progressive neo-avant-garde art running parallel with international trends was isolated from public view, and the institutional system was left undeveloped.

After 1989, the visual arts in the post-communist countries inherited an infrastructure which could only partly be utilized, and which was extremely inefficient at mediating contemporary arts to society, the international art world, the potential audience and potential buyers.

As a result, the contemporary visual arts in the Central European region remain a marginalized and isolated sphere of culture to this very day; the commercial art market has not expanded; artistic theory battles against several decades of backwardness; visual arts teaching is not an integrated part of overall educational strategy.

Despite this, the current standard of artistic practice is in many cases on a par with international trends. In particular, the financing and distribution of artistic productions is in crisis, as the financial resources of both the state and foundations, that is non-profit sector, are increasingly unable to support the arts, let alone inspire artistic development.

Artistic activities and the associated institutional structure have to adjust themselves to the new market-based economic formations because the support from foundations and the non-profit sector is of a short-term nature and – in the long-term – it actually leads to the isolation of the arts from society and economic realities. The methods used to affect such an adjustment – marketing, financing, project management, public relations – have to be fashioned according to the contemporary arts and the region.

This demands that we nurture a team of professionals who, employing new, innovative methods, are capable of achieving results in the for-profit and/or non-profit spheres. Players in the art world – artists, curators, critics, institution managers, cultural managers, college and university tutors, gallery owners, state decision-makers – have to face the ‘star-system’ and the rules of show business dominant in the global artistic life and the media.

The artistic institutional system and supportive social-economic background has to be strong enough and developed enough to ensure on the one hand the creation of art products, and on the other hand to present the works in an effective manner on the domestic and global art world and art market.

The radical turnaround of both sides (i.e. production and distribution) and the recent learning process of new activities (marketing, development, PR, education programming, etc.) appropriate to the age are the mutual tasks of the institutional frame and the cultural workers.

The 90s offered a historical opportunity for non-artist figures in the art world – curators, critics, institution managers, cultural managers, college and university tutors, commercial gallery owners, state decision-makers, the professional cultural workers – who had also rid themselves of the ideological dictates of the authorities, to recognize that it is not enough to have studied the traditional profession to a high standard, but to be at least as innovative as the artistic praxis itself.

Today the artistic praxis is a few steps ahead of the art institutions. At the momentthe professional lobby – because of its present theoretical and practical uncertainty and acute divisions – is not capable of representing contemporary art products in an efficient, authentic, convincing form to the state, the media, the business community, education, the audience and the global market.

The story of acb

The acb is the joint venture of Gábor Pados, Zsolt Pajor, János Szoboszlai and Katalin Szoke.

Pados and Pajor are businessmen who have been collecting and financing contemporary fine art since the early 90s. Their privately owned Irokéz Collection constitutes paintings, digital prints, photos and videos, and is dynamically developing (

Art historians Szoboszlai and Szoke have been managing the Irokez Collection since 2001. They curated the Introductory Exhibition of the collection and edited its catalogue and website.

János Szoboszlai graduated in1993 as a teacher of Hungarian language and literature; in 1994 he got his degree in art history. In 2002 he acquired his PhD in art history on Loránd Eötvös University of Budapest. His main research areas are 20th century fine art, appropriation, the theory of the institutional framework of art and the modernisation of the Central-European art institutions.

In 1994 he worked for Mucsarnok (palace of ARt, Budapest) and Soros Centre for Contemporary Art, Budapest. From 1996 to 2001 he was the general director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Dunaújváros, Hungary. In the academic year 2001/2002 he was a guest lecturer at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He publishes in art journals on a regular basis.

Katalin Szoke got her degrees of art history and of French respectively at Loránd Eötvös University in Budapest in 1998 and in 2000. In 1998 she completed the seminar Contemporary Art in Museums at the Institut für Kulturwissenschaft in Vienna.

Between 1997 and 1999 she worked for the Centre for Culture and Communication. As a staff member of Grand Turizmo Art Consulting during 2000 and 2001 she curated and managed several contemporary art projects. In 2001 and 2002 she studied minimalism at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her main research areas are photography, minimalism and installations.

These four people established the Trance Balance Art Ltd. in 2002. Our company runs the acb contemporary art gallery. The gallery works on the field of market economy. There is no other business activity of the four owners that would support the projects of the gallery. This enterprise has to generate revenue to fulfil its mission.

The gallery has three functions: 1. trades contemporary artworks, 2. provides services on the field of contemporary fine art, 3. collaborates with non-for-profit arts organizations in order to promote contemporary visual arts from Hungary.

Trading contemporary artworks

The acb commenced its operation in a flat in Budapest on 22 February, 2003. Its first exhibition introduced artists whose works define the future profile of the gallery.

The majority of the artists contracted to the gallery have already gained reputation in the Hungarian and the international art world. The acb gallery represents works by artists Zoltán Ádám, András Braun, Ágnes Elod, Attila Csörgo, Tamás Komoróczky, Hajnal Németh, Péter Szarka, and Gyula Várnai.

The shows of acb since February 2003:

The Introductory Exhibition of acb
New Paintings of Zoltan Adam
New Paintings of András Braun
Hajnal Nemeth: Stereoheart
Tamas Komoroczky: Turboreflex – Supercut
Agnes Elod: I Can’t Wait Till Christmas
Selection Of The Works Of The Artists Of acb

These artist are contracted to the acb. Although the creators of the works to be presented are highly different as far as their ages, concepts or techniques are concerned, by bringing them together acb gallery defines the domain of contemporary art it hopes to represent. The acb exhibits Zoltán Ádám’s paintings and watercolours that follow his Tibetan portraits displayed with great success in Mucsarnok (Palace of Art, Budapest) in 2001.

The abstract paintings of András Braun painted in 2002 carry on and develop his well-known optical universe. Ágnes Elod, as the representative of the young generation of sculptors, displays objects and prints referring to and using the topics and techniques of the mass media. Attila Csörgo presents a mobile work which is home-made but nonetheless continues the best traditions of geometry and kinetic sculpture.

Csörgo, who was a participant in the Venice Biennale of 1999, appears on the exhibition courtesy of Skuc Galerija (Ljubljana). The acb displays videos and several prints by Tamás Komoróczky, who creates collages with digital technology. Komoróczky was the representative of Hungarian contemporary art on the Venice Biennale of 2001.

Hajnal Németh produces videos, digital prints and wallpaper covering an entire wall. Péter Szarka’s works are the photographs of images created by three dimensional computer modelling. Gyula Várnai appears with illuminating boxes, and we also introduce his audio CDs containing his acoustic works.

The acb manage these artists: regulary exhibits the new works of the artists, maintains an online portfolio of the artists, maintains their database (resume, list of exhibitions, works in collections, prices, awards, scholarschips, ec.), administers the loans of their works to galleries, museums and other venues, helps them in gratwriting, promotes their works to museums and collectors, represents the copyrights of the artists, in cases contributes in the financial aspects of the creation of new artworks.

The acb opens new exhibitions on every 5th week. The exhibitions are curated, organized by Szoboszlai and Szoke who are also responsible for the administration, storage, shipment, PR, and documentation of the projects.

We believe that the market of contemporary art exists, but it needs to be explored. One of the primary objectives of acb is to create a circle of collectors who regard the tendencies of contemporary fine art and closely follow the different achievements of autonomous artistic creativity and innovation, independent of the genre, technique or the materials of the works.

Issues of marketing

The acb has been building a circle of collectors who decided to purchase contemporary artworks after consultations with the staff of the gallery. Despite the bad social reputation of visual arts, a great number of people are ready to decorate their offices and/or homes with contemporary artworks. Ninety-five percent of galleries sell panel painting: oil on canvas.

The potential buyers do not necessarily visit museum exhibitions, do not often talk with advisors. Most of them recognize contemporary art as abstract painting. The acb represent video-, multimedia-, intermedia , etc.- artists whose works cover a broad spectrum of contemporary art – digital prints, videos, installations, objects, etc. The motivation of collecting is not always investment – it is very often personal attraction, enjoyment of art.

The clients of acb are educated by the staff of the gallery. The two art historians – both of whom previously worked as museum directors, critics, program coordinators, and researchers in art – focus onthe material and symbolic values of every artworks they talk about. The frames of ‘client education’ are diverse. The acb offers personal consultations, ‘artists talks’, exclusive receptions for the clients.

The prices are often really high in Hungary – compared to the prices in the European Community they are on the same level when the average income is approximately 500 €. An oil painting from a well-known, well-established painter who has works e.g. in the Ludwig Museum’s Collection can reach 4-5 000 €, that is to say, collecting contemporary art is still a privilege of the upper classes.

Most of the artists try to reach this level of price at a very young age – instead of building up their prices step by step. Therefore acb has to design a price of an artists calculated with his age, the number of works he creates, the financial aspects of the works, the issues of preservation, storage, and copyright.

The acb sells photographs and digital works, prints and videos as well. One of the topics of ‘client education’ is the legitimization of these forms of art. It seems that more and more collectors decide to buy prints of a limited series of digital prints and photos.

A report

Since late February 2003 the acb presented eight exhibitions, sold three paintings, six digital prints, two photographs, one object, one sculpture.

Going to art fairs

As soon as the acb produced the necessary quality and quantity of shows we will start representing our artists at international art fairs.

Providing services on the field of contemporary fine art

The services we provide on the field of contemporary fine art and other cultural fields for individuals, companies, museums, non-profit organisations, civil organisations and local governments are the following: counselling on acquisition of artworks, establishing collections, developing and maintaining collections, ascertaining originality, legal matters of purchasing, collecting and selling works of art, and establishing art organisations and institutions, counselling and assistance for non-Hungarian museums and art centres.

The acb provides information on contemporary Hungarian art, offers presentations on contemporary Hungarian art and assistance for curatorial work, handling art collections, surveying the state of the collection, ascertaining originality, cataloguing, making reproductions, creating databases, editing and publishing catalogues and websites, maintaining public relations, documenting events.

The acb is acting on the field of cultural development. We take special care when preparing for any of our projects. Research and study are followed by the exact definition of objectives and tasks. Thereafter we evaluate the available sources and fix the deadlines. It is imperative that we bear the demands of the customer in mind and be therefore flexible.

While planning the project we involve our partners and use auxiliary materials if necessary. Parts of designing the project are to decide on questions of communication, to define roles and responsibilities, and to create a plan of execution. A substantial element of every project is to co-ordinate relations with the media and the public.

On completion of the project we are always going to evaluate it and we immediately start planning subsequent tasks. When we make our proposals for the projects we pay extra heed to the complexity of cultural and art projects. Our partners participating in the execution of the projects are individuals and companies that are reputable on their respective fields and hold excellent references.

A report

Since late February 2003 the acb elaborated the concept of two artists-in-residency program ordered by an individual and a corporation, organized several VIP-receptions at its space and at other locations. At the moment a dozen of individuals and corporations are regular clients of the counselling service of the gallery.

Collaboration with non-for-profit arts organizations in order to promote contemporary visual arts from Hungary

Along with certain institutes of art, acb wishes to participate in projects which aim at enriching the world and improving the positions of contemporary fine art, and which also wish to modernise the institutional framework of art. The acb is determined to introduce Hungarian artists abroad and foreign artists on the Hungarian market, as we believe it is imperative that Hungarian artists be present internationally and that Hungarian art play a more intensive part in the world of contemporary art.

A report

Since late February 2003, the acb started developing a dozen of projects with museums, other galleries and governments.

Other essays in this series:

FUTURA, Prague