Interview with Margit Valkó, founder of the gallery Kisterem in Budapest
From young emerging artists to the well established neo-avantgarde generation of artists, Kisterem displays the diversity of the Budapest art scene in its program. In this interview Margit Valkó talks about collaboration, artists exchanges and what the gallery experienced in its first ten years.
What led you to open your own gallery? Tell us a bit about the origins of your gallery.
I have been working with contemporary art since I finished my studies. First as an assistant in other galleries, later as a dealer and as a consultant. I had been thinking for a while about opening a gallery but I was determined to have a progressive program with lots of young artists, who make objects, installations, video projects–all not so easy to sell to private collectors especially in a country with mainly collectors for new media works. However my previous business partner and I both realized that we wanted to move toward new challenges it was somehow a now or never situation and I went for it.
Can you describe the art scene in Budapest?
It is quite a complex thing to talk about, that would need a lot of special background information, almost a special study. New institutions have been founded by the state in the past couple of years, traditional exhibition spaces like the Kunsthalle were rendered to them. Other contemporary institutions have less funding for exhibitions now, however, the museums keep collecting very good art, in my opinion, in a wide range but as far as I know mostly Hungarian art.
I think we really badly miss more good large scale international contemporary art exhibitions in Budapest, and more cultural exchange.
Smaller institutions react to all kinds of changes flexibly but the more established ones are less exciting and less up to date. They are kind of lingering on a certain notion of the past that is in my view not very much connected to the reality of what is happening now in Hungary and internationally.
Has the artistic climate changed over time? Have there been shifts that you’ve observed since you’ve been running your gallery?
It is very strange that many important older generation Hungarian artists that should have a large scale study retrospectives do not have exhibitions in the capital, but only in smaller towns in Hungary. The same for the younger generation–very good exhibitions happen in Paks, or Pécs but the younger artists do not have opportunities to take part in curated exhibitions in Budapest as they used to have access to the Kunsthalle or the National Gallery.
Besides the Ludwig Museum new references opened like the Kassák Museum or the Budapest Gallery. The contemporary art scene tries to keep up with the international art community, and the 2nd edition of the Off Biennale Budapest has been organized this year.
It is an attempt to prove to ourselves that we have the capacity to show progressive and up to date contemporary art for the public and still connect internationally. It is a very hard work as it is funded completely independently, and not by the government.
How do you see the role of a gallery today?
I have the opportunity now to arrange exhibition from the works of very established neo-avantgarde artists. I have started to show certain segments of their oeuvre, to show certain connections that had been not so obvious before. Just to show their work for a younger generation of public is very important. Actually there has been a shift in the activity of the gallery, e.g. I do a research of the longlasting carreer of Ilona Keserü, György Jovánovics and István Nádler.
For the mid-career artists we are able to create now important solo shows: It is an important opportunity to summarize works of a certain period and prepare the soil for larger institutional shows as well.
We do try to participate at many art fairs, it is extremely important and on art fairs now we are also able to connect with the very important museums that have an interest in adding Eastern European pieces to their collection. In the past years I had done some collaborations and artists exchanges–we showed together with the Hungarian galleries, Vintage and acb, in art fairs like Art Cologne and Viennacontemporary, and I worked with international galleries such as the Mayor Gallery in London, Elisabeth Dee Gallery in New York, Stephen Friedmann Gallery also in London and with Hunt Kastner Gallery in Prague.
What brought you into contemporary art in the first place? What is your background?
I studied economics in Budapest. We had a sense of freedom there with all the professors who later became advisers to many governments and institutions. I think it was very important to have a fairly free and multi-faceted quality education while still in the communist period. At the same time, in the 1980s, I met people in in the music subculture also visual artists in the eighties. Meeting the members of the Indigo group was very important for me as well.
I am still friends with some of them–for example I work with János Sugár, who introduced me at that time to a totally different visual way of thinking that I still use. Later I did courses at Sotheby’s educational studies in London that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Is there someone who particularly influenced you?
Beside my early acquaintance with the eighties art scene, it was fantastic to be living in Budapest anticipating the changes to come. There was a certain vibe in the air: Lots of neon colours and red lipsticks of the new wave and punk, vintage clothing from the flea markets that all stood out against the greyness of the decaying of the socialist regime.
Right before the wall came down I started to work with the Austrian gallerist Hans Knoll who had opened a gallery in Budapest. There I met artists like Joseph Kosuth or Tony Cragg. This gallery was a stopover for international curators. It was a super exciting and promising period.
I left the gallery soon after for the London studies so I could seek my own way. Since than I have enjoyed the company of certain people and I observe and pick up things from them, rather than being influenced. I also have some favourite galleries that I follow and appreciate.
How would you characterize the artists you work with? How are the artists you represent connected?
Some of the artists I work with are connected in many ways through their studies or through common institutional exhibition history. And some of them are more individual. They are of course all so individual that I do not try characterize them.
How do you decide to add a new artist?
At a certain point it was easy, now it is more difficult. Sometimes I would like to work loosely with a new artist just to see how it goes between us, but there is some competition and sometimes where you make a decision quickly. Of course I try to observe, go to exhibitions, and listen to artists of the gallery artists and to my friends who are curators.
What exhibitions or projects do you have planned in the months to come?
Right now we have a show of Tamás Kaszás at the gallery, who is one of my most important mid-career artists, and he will have an exhibition simultaneously at De-Appel in Amsterdam and in Netwerk, Aalst opening at the end of January.
In the beginning of 2018 we will participate in Art Rotterdam with Ádám Kokesch and Zsolt Molnár, who is my youngest artist. I think Art Rotterdam is a fresh and young art fair which is a very good place to show young artists for the first time.
Besides that I have plans to participate in other art fairs in the next year. In my gallery program for the next months we will focus more on the younger and mid-career artists. And I also plan to continue our book publishing projects. For instance we have begun preparation of the second volume of the catalogue raisonné of Ilona Keserü, and I am planning some other catalogues for some of my other mid-career artists.
How do you see your gallery in a decade?
It was very tough to get to this 10 years behind me. It is a great honor to connect with the neo-avantgarde artists and through them to connect with the important institutions and collections.
I hope however, that I can draw the attention of international collectors and curators to my mid-career artists and I have ideas for international artists whose works I would like to show in my gallery.
Képíró utca 5.