What should be the criteria for museums developing collections of contemporary art?

Barnabás Bencsik, Director, Ludwig Museum – Museum of Contemporary Art: The Ludwigs’ collection was initiated during the Cold War and comprised west European and American pop art, the art of the 1960s, non-conformist Soviet and Bulgarian oppositionist works, as well as official art of the GDR. This situation was inherited in the period after The Wall came down. It was the beginning which, in context and circumstance, gave an advantage to the museum in terms of its collection of contemporary art. I can say that the Ludwig Museum had a head start of ten years. Currently leading western art is virtually unaffordable, even for west European museums maintained from public funds. A real chance to acquire high quality works is to purchase from artists at a point in their career when their creations are still affordable. Naturally, we have to continuously keep an eye on major exhibitions, fairs and the relevant galleries, both in Hungary and abroad. We have to establish good relations with the artists.

József Sárkány, Art historian, Janus Pannonius Museum: In April 2011, when the financial and economic situation of public collections has reached such a state that providing for the basic needs of museums across the country is difficult. As I understand, in Pécs and in other Hungarian towns there is a low level of interest in the majority of contemporary art exhibitions. This is shown by the high quality of works in the permanent exhibition of contemporary Hungarian art in the Modern Hungarian Picture Gallery in Pécs, where – because there are only a few thousand visitors annually – a bitter struggle has to be undertaken against closure and against the introduction of shorter opening hours.Undoubtedly, the collection and presentation of contemporary works is a specific task of fine arts museology. In the event of a successful tender the finance gained is enough for the purchase of three or four works of art. At the same time it has to be stressed that these days the majority of artists’ colonies, the financial situation of their funding local authorities and the Arts Fund, which previously played a central role in their financing, have declined and can no longer fulfil the role they successfully played several decades ago. In this regard, too, individualism and the replacement of group or collective activities by independence and pursuing a solo career are having a powerful effect. The decline of large national exhibitions is only indirectly a question of finance. Today, the majority of artists whose presence would raise the standing of an event would rather follow an individual path. In terms of presenting themselves, group exhibitions are no longer so important.

Péter Fitz, Art historian, director of the Budapest History Museum’s Municipal Picture Gallery: The Municipal Picture Gallery–Kiscell Museum invites artists to contemporary art exhibitions from whom it wishes to buy, and it purchases works which are compatible with its more than 100-year-old collection. The regeneration of the Municipal Picture Gallery’s current collection dates back to the early 1960s. The result was that in the 1960s and 1970s you could see a cross-section of contemporary art in the Kiscell Museum which could not be found elsewhere in Budapest, and in the provinces it was only in Székesfehérvár and Pécs where there was something similar. From the 80s and 90s the Municipal Picture Gallery concerned itself with presenting the progressive tendencies of Hungarian art. Among the perspectives of the gallery was that the chosen works (or those destined for purchase) would undoubtedly fit in with the already existing, characteristic profiles of the collection. From the 1980s the museum made a point of endeavouring to fill the gaps.

Judit Geskó, Art historian, head of the Fine Arts Museum’s collection of post-1800 works: It was the opening of the up-to-date exhibition of antiquities in the 1980s that could have called attention to the fact that the Museum of Fine Arts severely lacked a modern permanent exhibition. In a historical museum with permanent exhibitions of Egyptian, classical antiquities, old master painting and sculpture, as well as 19th-century works, it was essential to create a permanent display of 20th-century and contemporary works. We recently planned that this exhibition would be located on the left side of the museum’s entrance hall, as a symmetrical partner of the antiquities exhibition, but due to the museum’s expansion being abandoned the new exhibition will eventually be located in the halls on the second floor. A few years ago my colleagues and I formulated the criteria for a new permanent exhibition scheduled for the Fine Arts Museum. We regarded it as important that the exhibition’s concentrated selection would reflect the character and emphasis of the collection and its main works. On the other hand, we realised it would be necessary to rearrange that from time to time. Both are basic principles in the continuous assessment of art history research in relation to museum collections. The issues involved range from everyday practical matters to the latest theoretical questions.