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Art experiences in Hungary: rural museums that compete with those in the capital

MODEMDebrecen Debrecen and surroundings

Although Hungarian cultural life is very much Budapest-centric, there are also exciting artistic experiences to be had outside the capital: there are lots of fine art museums and galleries around the country, whose exciting exhibition concepts and high-class art collections attract art lovers from Budapest and abroad. 

For example, the history of the art scene in Pécs is rich enough to necessitate museums to commemorate its greatest figures. After all, Pécs gave the country many artists who later became recognised in Europe or even worldwide, including Tivadar Csontváry-Kosztka, Marcell Breuer and Victor Vasarely. Of course, Pécs is not the only city in Hungary whose art institutions match those in Budapest: you should travel to the countryside for a day or two to see the cultural life and museums and to discover sights in any of the following locations: 

MODEM - Center for Modern and Contemporary Art (Debrecen)

MODEM started its major contemporary collection in the mid-2000s, and within a few years it became one of the most important art institutions in the country and put Debrecen on the fine arts map. The modern and innovative appearance of the building is remarkable in itself, and it also says a lot about the institution's focus on modern and contemporary art. The latest and most exciting manifestations of modern trends and contemporary art can all be found in MODEM's collection: in recent years, the institution has offered an outstanding, diverse exhibition programme. The Hungarian and international artists on show reflect on topics such as what Central-Eastern European identity means today and whether community cohesion still exists, which has resulted in extremely exciting works. MODEM has been part of the Déri Museum since 2015, but is still characterised by critical museology.

Janus Pannonius Museum (Pécs)

The Janus Pannonius Museum is Hungary's largest rural museum, but you should not look for it as an independent exhibition space in the city. The institution actually represents a collective of several fine and applied art museums, which together form a vibrant art district in Káptalan utca. The museum was attracting tourists to the city as early as the 1950s, since the permanent Zsolnay ceramics exhibition was opened in 1955, where anyone could view the world-famous works of applied art. The museum received several donations within a few years, so it quickly acquired a substantial, and high-quality, collection. This established its reputation, which it retains to this day. In addition to works of applied art, the Janus Pannonius Museum has significant modern and contemporary fine art objects (including the country's largest Csontváry collection), but in addition to the numerous contemporary sub-institutions, visitors can also learn about the history of the city at the Renaissance stone repository as well as ethnographic, archaeological, urban history and natural science exhibitions in the art district of Pécs.

House of Arts, Veszprém

Just like the JPM in Pécs, the House of Arts in Veszprém does not function as a physical exhibition space: it is made up of five independent institutions; namely the Modern Gallery – László Vass Collection, the Csikász Gallery, Dubniczay Palace, the Castle Gallery and the Granary). The Modern Gallery – László Vass Collection stands out from its fellow sub-institutions: it started as a private collection but had grown into a museum by the 1990s. Since then, its collection, which focuses on constructive tendencies, has been continuously expanding with constructivist, minimalist, concrete and conceptual pieces from the post-war decades, as well as with recent works by world-renowned artists. The permanent exhibition, which is updated every two years, includes approximately 150 objects – including works by Menyhért Tóth, Tihamér Gyarmati and Dezső Korniss, as well as a significant number of international pieces – while the second floor of the gallery hosts temporary exhibitions.

Other rural museums – Balatonfüred

Although the northern coast of the Balaton mostly attracts those who want to go bathing, Balatonfüred is also a great destination for culture lovers, as the city has two renowned museums. The Jewish House of Excellence is a unique place to learn about Jewish culture and history: exciting exhibitions and events in the building present the religion and its traditions, the diversity of the Jewish community as well as significant personalities, artists, and scientists. The imposing building of the Vaszary Gallery is the centre of cultural life in Balatonfüred, and its large spaces accommodate the best of contemporary art. In addition to the temporary exhibitions, other art programmes are also available to visitors: you can listen to interesting lectures, round table discussions, and the Outdoor Cinema also welcomes art lovers with films.

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