Thirty years on

Museum spaces of the Kádár era in the 21st century

MúzeumCafé 45.

The Szombathely Art Gallery opened in 1985 in one of the nicest buildings of late modern Hungarian architecture designed by Lajos Mátis above the ancient Iseum ruins. The building of the Béla Dornyay Museum, housing a compilation of historical objects and documents, as well as art, literary historical and numismatic collections, opened in the bustling mining town of Salgótarján in 1980. Designed by Géza Magyar, it is considered the only essentially museum building constructed during the state socialist era. The two buildings, located on the western and northern borders of Hungary, were constructed according to different expectations and different aims, yet they represent expressive sources concerning how museums, museology and the role of museums in urban communities were regarded during the Kádár era. Although the Szombathely Art Gallery was intended to become a museum of contemporary art, its restoration workshop and art object storeroom betray a comprehensive approach similar to the edifice in Salgótarján, which was established primarily as a history museum. The new Salgótarján museum, the construction of which got underway in 1975, finally opened on 3 October 1980, at the start of the Month of Museums and Listed Buildings. State Prize-winning architect Géza Magyar was commissioned to design the new museum. It was built in an environment where it had to manifest the cultural life of a “workers’ town”. Magyar had to design a contemporary building which corresponded to the ideas of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, which at the time of the designing were still new, i.e. it encouraged all layers of society to get involved with education and culture, and at the same time it matched the complex of buildings referred to as ‘the forum’ in Salgótarján.