Interview with Attila Ledényi, director of Art Market Budapest

Everything you need to know about establishing a successful art fair from scratch.

International art fairs, the number of which went up enormously ten years ago, still act as influential platforms for galleries and artists to sell their works and connect with the major players of the art world. Art fairs offer means for collectors, curators, critics, museum professionals and art lovers to establish indirect and direct contacts and have access to the whole diversity of works from all over the globe gathered under one roof. In our globalized world that is essential.

Art Market Budapest is an art fair which was established in Budapest, Hungary, back in 2011. It aims to bring attention and awareness to contemporary Central and Eastern European art and artists. Art Market Budapest efficiently and thought-provokingly combines inspiring artistic content that originates from emerging regions in and beyond Europe as well as the progressive new generation of artists of the already established West. Exhibitors from over 40 countries across 5 continents and an annually growing audience of over 30 thousand international visitors clearly indicate that there is a strong demand in the art world for this artistic platform, nurturing a unique artistic composition in this vibrant region. The fair takes place in the modernized Millenáris park and building complex with venues for exhibitions, plays, concerts and performances (National Dance Theatre, opened in February 2019, is also located here). The location is a reconstructed site of the former Ganz Works factory complex with a certain mysterious vibe. The Ganz Works was a group of companies operating between 1845 and 1949 in Budapest. It is best known for the manufacture of tramcars, ships, bridge steel structures and high-voltage equipment. Nowadays the air of this location is being electrified only by contemporary art!  

 .ART has interviewed the director of Art Market Budapest, Attila Ledényi:

Can you comment on how Art Market Budapest developed and changed over these years?
When Art Market Budapest (AMB) was launched as an international contemporary art fair in 2011, it introduced a format in Budapest and in most of Eastern Europe that annually receives the attention of millions of people in the world. While keeping the standard format of an art fair, AMB has successfully developed its unique features to make it a one-of-a-kind show. Among other factors, we pay particular attention to introducing lesser known artistic content that inspires and often criticizes the mainstream, we reach out to emerging sources of high quality but internationally underrepresented art (e.g. we present the largest concentration of art from the post-communist Eastern European countries), and even if they arrive from the developed markets of Western Europe or North America, our exhibitors bring new, fresh, inspirational and even provocative art to the attention of our audiences. This approach has proved successful, AMB is not only hard to compare with any other fair, but it has gained and secured its position as Central and Eastern Europe’s leading contemporary art fair. It has grown to become a show that occupies over 6,000 square meters to present thousands of artworks by over 500 artists annually, represented by over 100 exhibitors arriving from around 30 countries of five continents to entertain a growing audience of already nearly 30 thousand visitors.

What is the story of the venue where Art Market Budapest takes place?
When we were looking for a location that could best host an art fair of our kind, we were looking for something different, unusual but also comfortable and approachable. I can assure you that Millenaris Park is the best such location throughout the region. It perfectly reflects what makes Budapest such a perfect center to become an art industry meeting place: it is old in history and young in spirit. The century old industrial buildings of what used to be the Ganz Factory are centrally located, easily reachable with any kind of transportation, and is certainly a place that stands out from other fair locations, it has become an integral component of the image of our fair. Although – due to its architectural complexity – it is a venue that makes designing and building an art fair a particularly tough challenge. It is absolutely worth the extra effort, our visitors love it from day one, and our exhibitors also learnt to overcome the architectural challenges and appreciate the attraction of it.

What did the artworks and booths being presented at this year’s fair reveal about current trends?
Our exhibitors are usually courageous enough to experiment and step out of the box, they don’t follow or represent the already winning trends or the mainstream of what is available on the market. However, one can draw some general conclusions from the portfolios presented at the latest edition of the fair. The strong presence of Eastern European art shows an increasing interest and attention towards art coming from this part of the world. The curatorial combinations of the latest works with art (mostly neo-avantgarde) from the 1960’ and 70’s is also a growing phenomenon on the international market. The increasing importance and appreciation of photography by the European markets was also clearly felt in Art Photo Budapest, our onsite satellite fair … just to name a few of the now revealed trends.

Art Market Budapest has yearly themes. How did you come up with this idea?
Our philosophy is to build a solid basis on what our audience likes about the fair, make them feel that they arrive to the same place they love year by year, but to refresh our contents as much as possible by introducing a new highlighted theme every year. These themes and the countries (or regions or cities) that we select as guests of honor also help articulate our leading narrative: we always put such places into the focus of attention where the artistic content is of high quality but hasn’t really been properly presented on or appreciated by the global market. For that reason  Russia was an excellent choice as a guest of honour in 2019: the art scene there is vibrant, the artists are dedicated and well trained, the artworks are inspirational and provocative, but the global art world is still too blind to be aware of this. We were happy to help raise awareness.

How do you ensure that the event stays contemporary in the fast-paced art world?
Much of this has already been answered previously. Our exhibitors are our main allies in making sure that what we present to the market is as fresh as can be. Interestingly, the galleries that apply to Art Market Budapest (in fast growing numbers) seem to understand better and better each year that we expect them to be fresh and inspiring. The proof of it is that collectors, including museum collections, tend to come here for treasure hunting.

What is the greatest challenge you face as the fair’s director?
Art Market Budapest is a true meeting place where art industry representatives get together not just with the sole purpose of selling and buying, but with the intention to meet, talk, discuss and cooperate. The feedback we tend to receive from our exhibitors and regular-fair-going visitors is that AMB is particularly attractive because it has a SOUL, a special, friendly and welcoming atmosphere which most similar events seem to lack. The consequence of this is an endless flood of new ideas and new project proposals. And many of them are so attractive and exciting that your heart is bleeding if you can’t be a part of them. The largest difficulty is to limit ourselves to what is physically doable and to select cleverly.

How do you motivate first time buyers?
The atmosphere which I already referred to is the key to this. The friendliness and openness of the fair, my team and our exhibitors are what makes a difference. We create a place where people don’t feel intimidated to ask questions, be open about their opinions. Our programs are designed to help establish direct contacts between our exhibitors and the audience, between the gallery teams, artists and the visitors. At our last edition, you could personally shake hands and chat with such amazing stars as Michelangelo Pistoletto or Oleg Kulik as well as the hidden artist gems of the future.

What do you hope to see for the future editions of Art Market Budapest?
It depends on how far we want to look into the future. Art Market Budapest is already the leading international art fair in Central and Eastern Europe, our photography section is the only international photo fair in the region, but the show, particularly combined with Budapest as a fast emerging destination for the premium traveler, has some great further potential. It is on this basis that we hope to turn Budapest into one of Europe’s, if not the world’s, new art industry meeting places during Art Market Budapest each year.

What can the visitors expect to see in 2020?
The ‘same’ plus ‘something brand new’. The same in the sense that we will keep what our visitors particularly enjoy: the venue, the atmosphere, the openness, the inspiration and the promise of the unexpected. It is the very nature of what we like to do, an instant search for not yet discovered stars of the future. Thematically speaking, one of the themes we plan to focus on is the celebration of thirty years of freedom since the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe and beyond. We will compare the ‘now’ and the ‘then’. This is just one of the many attractions most of which would be too early to reveal. But I can assure you, Budapest will be the place to visit October 22d through 25th in 2020, and we are already looking forward to it!

Daria Kravchuk
Daria Kravchuk
is a curator and art manager with an MA in Museology from Amsterdam University. Her international projects are focused on the intersection of contemporary art, architecture, urban planning and anthropology. You can connect with her via LinkedIn.