Acb Gallery is a Budapest based art gallery founded in 2003. Its mission is to represent contemporary art and Hungarian neo-avant-garde art, both in the Hungarian and in the international art scene. The gallery is focusing on artists from various generations whose artistic practice is characterized by conceptual principles and approaches. The gallery is running three exhibition spaces – acb Gallery, acb Attachment and acb NA – and they opened a new department, the acb ResearchLab last September. With the artistic director of acb Gallery, Orsolya Hegedüs we talked about the evolvement of the gallery, the role of the acb ResearchLab, the perspectives of the Hungarian contemporary art and about their plans for this year.
Kinga Lendeczki: The acb Gallery was established in 2003 and now you already have three different exhibition spaces. Beside the exhibition hall of the gallery, you also have shows in the acb Attachment and in the recently opened acb NA. What is behind this evolvement of the gallery? Did you have a clear concept in mind of what you would like to achieve or was it rather a reaction to the transformation of the contemporary art scene?
Orsolya Hegedüs: Both. I joined to Gábor Pados, the owner and director of acb Gallery in 2009. Already very early we were about creating a new context that also meant to refurbish the gallery and create a more variable exhibition space that would be able to host events with larger audience beside the group and solo exhibitions. We also wanted to enlarge our office to be able to handle all the tasks we believed that should take place in a gallery. Our plan became realized in early 2013, and at the same time we opened a new space called acb Attachment. By then we needed the possibility to have more exhibitions as we also represented more artists and with acb Attachment we could double our shows.
The opening of the third space was partly a consequence of the transformation of the system of art institutions in Hungary and it is strongly connected to the work of the acb ResearchLab that was established last year. As the name of the space indicates [NA – neo-avant-garde] it is especially dedicated to the presentation of neo-avant-garde art in Hungary. At the moment we do six exhibitions in each space per year that means eighteen exhibitions every year.
KL: As you already mentioned the acb ResearchLab was established as a new department of the gallery in September last year. What is the role of the acb ResearchLab? How does it support the work of the gallery and complete its mission?
OH: The work of the acb ResearchLab helps in achieving the long-term goals of the gallery. The establishment of the acb ResearchLab was our response to the lack of researches and publications about the neo-avant-garde period in Hungary that we also represent in the gallery. It is a general problem that certain periods of Hungarian art are underrepresented in exhibitions and publications on the institutional level. In case of many significant artists, we still don’t have comprehensive publications about their artistic practice that would be accessible for everyone. If someone is interested in their works, he has to do a serious research in magazines, in publications or via internet and a lot of information will still be missing.
We also realized that in order to successfully present our contemporary artists we need to show their roots and our experience was that the art of the 1960s-70s were not familiar not just for the international audience but also for the domestic one. We decided to try to fill in this gap and our plan is to cover as much from this period with the activity of the acb ResearchLab as we can.
Emese Kürti already supported our work as an independent expert for a long time. It was a lucky coincidence that her research area is very close to the art and artists we are interested in and work with, therefore it was a logical step to continue our cooperation in frame of the acb ResearchLab. I can proudly present the first publication that is about Bosch+Bosch group. The artistic group is almost completely unknown for professionals and the audience in Hungary, and it is not that well-known abroad as well.
KL: Some of the tasks you have just mentioned are not typical for a gallery, they are rather belong to institutions…
OH: It is true and we are aware of it. Although it is not our task to fill in this gap that appeared in the field of researches and publications, it is a problem for us too. We had the possibility to create the tool for solving this problem so we did it. Acb Gallery was never only about being present at the art market, even though it is important for us since that is how we can exist. Our goal has always been to play a significant role in the art scene with representing our artists locally and internationally. We are not afraid of creating tools for ourselves in order to do it in the best way we can.
KL: In an earlier report you gave to a Hungarian magazine (here) you mentioned that nowadays the gallery’s task could also be to educate its collectors. What are the forms of this mission in the gallery?
OH: The international term ‘edutainment’, which is the combination of education and entertainment, describes the best what we do. The gallery is a mediator between contemporary art and the audience that is in this case the collectors. In order to help them to understand or to learn more about the origins of the art we represent, we need to give the information in a consumable form. We organize guided tours for collectors not just in our exhibitions, but also in other institutions where our artists are presented. We have public discussions and we believe in the importance of personal consultations. We provide publications and beside our own catalogues and books we advise those ones that we know can meet with the interest of the collector. We do not simply want to sell artworks referring to the brand of an artist or a period. We rather try to bring the art we represent as close to the collector as we can.
KL: How do you choose the artists you work with?
OH: There’s no recipe for that. We usually follow the works of an artist before we offer him or her the possibility to work together with us. Group shows and solo shows are good occasions for both the gallery and for the artist to test the collaboration. There is always a lot of expectation from both sides and there are cases when we know that we cannot fulfill them, even though we are engaged with the works, other times we experience that the artist’s approach regarding the collaboration is very different from ours. We believe that a good artist-gallery collaboration is when adding the one and one results a sum which is more than two.
In general I have to say that there is no strategy for this. The spirit of the artist and of his or her works counts a lot for us, and their attitude is also important. One of the gallery’s crucial characteristics is that it works as a family and we regard our artists as members of this family. In this profession sometimes you need to work 24 hours per day in a project and it is important to find those people who can be partners in it.
KL: You are regularly present at international art fairs both as participants and as visitors. What is the position of Hungarian contemporary art on the international art scene now? How did it change in the last few years?
OH: I think now would be the time for contemporary Hungarian art to arrive. In 2010 we were at the end of the row, but the individual activities of some galleries as well as cooperation of Hungarian galleries on an international level helped the whole scene to strengthen our visibility. As an example I would mention the Bookmarks exhibition at Art Cologne from last year. I think we are moving towards reaching the position that the recent and contemporary Hungarian art would deserve.
Actually the bad position contemporary Hungarian art had around 2010 motivated us to focus on the 1960s-70s. We frequently presented our contemporary artists at international fairs, but the notion of Hungarian art did not ring any bell for most visitors. They could not mention a single artist from this region. Now with the success of Dóra Mauer it has changed a lot and I believe that the participation of Katalin Ladik at the documenta next year will also add much to the visibility of Hungarian art.
I would mention one more positive change since 2010. At that time if you wanted to present an artist, you had to participate at a fair abroad. Nowadays professionals and collectors come from foreign countries to attend our openings or to visit a show. The scene became interesting and I think the various activities of the scene during the past years have a big role in it.
KL: How do you select which art fairs to participate at?
OH: There is always a wish list, as every gallery would like to present at the best fairs. However, we have to take into account also the context and several other factors in case of each fair. Although all the fairs are international, they are mostly based on local and regional collectors, even if well attended by international visitors. Hence it is important for us to keep in mind the taste and collecting habits of the local collector base when we decide about participating at an art fair. Each fair has its own different role for us. Sometimes we participate at a fair because it is in our region, like in case of Vienna Contemporary or Art Market Budapest.
KL: Which fairs are on your wish list?
OH: At the moment we are getting closer and closer to our imagined list, by participating at the Art Cologne and the FIAC.
KL: How do you select the artists you bring to an art fair?
OH: It also depends on our aim with the art fair. If it is more about positioning the gallery, we make a group presentation that characterize more the gallery itself and the art we represent. If there is a scene more receptive for certain artist, it is obvious that we will present his or her works, like in Cologne where we always show Endre Tót since he is living there for almost forty years and acb is the only gallery representing him.
KL: What is currently on view at acb?
OH: At the moment in the gallery and in acb NA we have the mini retrospective exhibition of Katalin Ladik with the title The Voice of a Woman focusing on her radical performance and intermedial artistic activity from the late sixties until the mid-eighties. We also have a group show entitled Statues of Rebels in acb Attachment presenting works by Gábor Gerhes, Ferenc Gróf, Péter Tamás Halász, Tibor Horváth, Tamás Komoróczky, Péter Szalay and Péter Szarka. This exhibition is a reflection on the current state of politics and cultural politics in Hungary and it points out the inability of any kind of rebellion not just in the contemporary Hungarian, but also in the context of every postindustrial society. The theme of socially engaged art still plays a central role in numerous artistic practices, and one of the key elements of acb Gallery’s identity is to reflect – through exhibitions and other activities – continuously on the current political and cultural conditions.
KL: What are your plans for this year?
OH: We will continue the neo-avant-garde program of acb NA. We will also have an anniversary this year. Gyula Várnai will become sixty and we will celebrate it with a solo show dedicated to him in autumn. An Endre Tót mail art show and solo presentations of János Vető, Erik Mátrai and Gábor Gerhes are also among the scheduled exhibitions. We are going to start a new exhibiton series presenting solo exhibitons of the artists of the Pécs Workshop starting this year with Ferenc Ficzek. We will do Vienna Contemporary, FIAC with an Endre Tót solo presentation, and we will certainly be at Art Market Budapest and at the Gallery Weekend Budapest.
The article was originally published on the 1st of June, 2016 on ArtGuideEast.