Snapshot: Erika Deák Gallery, Budapest (Article)

Erika Deak, art dealer, photograph. Image courtesy of Erika Deak.

The Erika Deák gallery was founded in 1998. Before this, Erika Deák lived in the United States for almost a decade. She graduated from Temple University, Philadelphia, and was working in several art galleries in New York City, while writing for different art magazines.

After moving back to Budapest in 1998 she opened her gallery in a small apartment on the third floor of a residential building in Buda. It was one of the first commercial galleries in Budapest. The first exhibit was a collaboration with the Ludwig Museum, Budapest. While the museum exhibited the large-scale installation works of Spanish media artist Antoni Muntadas, the gallery showed only photographs.  In 1998, photography was not an established medium on the commercial Hungarian art scene, and this exhibit became a very successful and a widely visited event.  Even more unusual was the fact that an internationally known artist would be represented by such a small commercial gallery.

The gallery’s second exhibit-a group show of young Hungarian artists, primarily painters, entitled There is a Woman-would define the trajectory of the gallery’s future reputation. Some of the show’s artists already had a reputation in Hungary and abroad, such as Attila Sz?cs or Ágnes Szépfalvi, while others were completely new on the scene.

In its first year, the gallery became very successful; all exhibitions were well attended and reviewed by major newspapers and magazines. Also, Erika Deák’s American collectors spread the word in the US. The gallery remained in its small flat for one year, exhibiting primarily one-person shows from the artists with whom the gallery was in collaboration. In September 1999 it moved to a considerably larger space on Jókai tér, although it was able to retain its apartment-like feel. Jókai tér is the center of culture in Budapest, located near the opera house and many theaters and restaurants. The inaugural exhibit was created by the Slovenian artist group IRWIN and assisted by the then active SOROS Foundation, as well by the local Ludwig Museum. The gallery still works both with Antoni Muntadas and the IRWIN group.

The gallery stayed in the same location for 11 years, until its recent move to Mozsár utca. It is now in a standard commercial space with three grand windows and a street entrance. The gallery finally also has a suitable storage space and two large exhibition halls.

The location of the gallery is not the only thing that has changed in the past twelve years of its existence; the list of featured artists has also undergone a transformation, even though many artists-Attila Sz?cs, Muntadas, Tibor iski Kocsis and the German video artist Eike-have been with the gallery almost since its beginning. The gallery concentrates primarily on painting but fleshes out its exhibitions with video and photography. Once a year we invite a young curator to organize an exhibit of his/her won design. Our next group exhibit will be curated by Jane Neal who will present recent developments in Romanian art.

Over the last decade, several new artists have joined us.  Varying in age from 25 to 50, these artists are promised a solo show every two years. We promote the artists’ works to museums and other possible exhibition venues, assist them with the creation of artworks through grants from the gallery, help with grant writing, create an online portfolio, and maintain their portfolios.
It has always been our goal to integrate Hungarian contemporary art into the international art scene. Since it opened the gallery has been represented at all major art fairs. The list of artists who collaborate with the gallery include the Spanish conceptual video artist Muntadas, photographer Menno Aden, video artist Eike, Deenesh Ghyczy, Clemens Krauss, Alexander Tinei, IRWIN, and many others.

The gallery has been building a circle of collectors since it first opened. Despite the fact that contemporary art is not a mainstream interest and only has a small number of followers in Hungary, the gallery has managed to survive the past twelve years, and shows signs of steady growth. This is in part due to its constant presence on the international art circuit. Gallery artists such as Alexander Tinei have exhibited in several European and American galleries and have a strong international collector base. Attila Sz?cs also has had many exhibits and was successfully introduced to the American public last September.  Tom Fabritius already had a name in the Leipzig painting school before coming to Hungary, Tibor iski Kocsis and Deenesh Ghyczy have had exhibits in Italy and Holland, while Muntadas, IRWIN or Clemens Krauss were already well-known when they started collaborating with us. Young Zsuzsa Moizer and Éva Magyarósi also have done well internationally.

Though sales in photography and sculpture are on the rise in Hungary, the most popular medium is still painting and paintings form the basis of most major private art collections. In Hungary potential art buyers are not necessary educated in the arts but tend to come from business. It is a major challenge to seduce these collectors into contemporary art. Our prices, unfortunately, are still below the European standard. Established Hungarian artists can ask for about 5.7000 euros for a mid-size work while even larger scale works rarely cost more than 10.000 euros. A mid size painting by young artists can run between one and three thousand euros.

We sorely lack support from the state. When we take the gallery to a major art fair abroad the fees involved always have to be paid out of our own pocket. As our prices are unfortunately way behind the international standard, it can be very hard to make enough money to invest in our ongoing presence outside of the country. Some Hungarian collectors understand the importance of these activities and “help out”-in other words, they buy works before an expensive fair. This, however, does not change the fact that all Hungarian contemporary galleries live very precariously.

Despite the sad economic situation in the world, we remain optimistic-especially after our recent move-and we hope that we can channel our beliefs in contemporary art to a wider public. We hope that the new location will bring more local and international visitors who in the future may just become buyers or even collectors of contemporary art.