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a great Hungarian artist. He became known all over Europe, was able to blend tradition with modernity, and was often on television. He has had about 300 of his works erected, which is a rare feat. Undoubtedly, his masterpiece is the Wallenberg monument (II. Szilágyi Erzsébet fasor, corner of Nagyajtai utca). It is located in a tucked-away part of Buda because even in 1986 it took considerable bravery to commemorate the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews before finally vanishing into the Soviet gulag. With the arrival of democracy, Varga again became a sort of pariah who was accused of having been some kind of collaborator. He mainly works for German commissions now, but he recently had a Bartók statue erected in Brussels. He spends his time in the museum devoted to his work, and he is a wise old man who still has an imposing presence (he is more than six feettall with ultra-short silver hair, like a retired four-star general in the U.S. Air Force). He speaks German and French well, though not (as far as I know) English. (Imre Varga Collection III. Laktanya utca 7., www.budapestgaleria.hu, open Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)

Artist-watching, Budapest Artists live everywhere in Hungary. To spot them in Budapest, you can go to two purpose-built artists’ colonies. The bigger one, called the Százados út Artists’ Colony, is in outer József­ város (100 metres from the Stadionok underground station). Built before World War One, it consists of about three dozen various sized homes, each with a studio (some of which are very big). A communal garden surrounds the houses and there is a fence around the colony with an iron gate that is never locked. The style is sometimes loosely called National Romanticism. It consists of a lot of woodwork, complicated latticed roofs, and undressed stone on the outside (especially near the bottom). The colony is still a lovely place, even after some major alterations were made that were not done with the necessary expertise. The right to live here was theoretically granted to artists and not to their widows or their offspring. But few of the families ever left. There are unfinished statues all around, and even some finished works of totalitarian “art” by the dreaded former dean of the Academy of Fine Arts. It is definitely worth taking a walk here, and anybody can freely walk in. (Százados út Artists’ Colony VIII. Százados út 3 – 13.)

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The other colony is a nice art nouveau apartment building with studios, which was built in 1903. It is located 100 metres up the hill from the elegant Gellért Hotel (see Walk Three). The typical tenants here are couples, both painters, who have launched successful graphic design careers. They work a lot, participating in the rat race, so they leave early and get home late. The husband gets away for three weeks once or twice a year, to a summer colony for artists in Kecskemét (about 100 kilometres south of Budapest). During that time he does not want to hear about business. He even switches off his cell phone. (Apartment Building with Studios XI. Kelenhegyi út 12 – 14.)

Artist-watching, Northwest Hungary Lake Balaton, the “Hungarian Sea”, is a naff place on the whole. But not the relatively untouched villages north of it which sit roughly between Veszprém and Tapolca. It is one of the most attractive parts of Hungary, and is known for its volcanic hills. The fashion for buying summer homes and studios here started in the early 1980s, as more and more villagers abandoned their houses. The craze spread from a village called Kapolcs, where the composer/theatre director István Márta and his friends organize the annual “Valley of Arts” festival (http://www.muveszetekvolgye.hu), which has a fringe of hundreds of smaller events between mid-July and mid-August. By now, several dozen better-known painters have studios here, and writers and actors are also crowding in. Writer György Konrád has a wonderful house in a village called Hegymagas. The traditionalist painter/semi-professional hussar Győző Somogyi moved permanently to a village called Salföld and gathered quite a herd of different animals. His house is a frequent destination of pilgrimage for dewy-eyed egghead students dreaming of the simple life. The last outpost is a shore resort called Szigliget, where there is a writers’ “Creative Centre” (which is a relic of the past, even the name). It’s a big, yellow, dilapidated complex on a large estate that once belonged to an aristocratic family. One of their scions, the cult figure/writer Péter Esterházy traditionally spends three weeks there at the beginning of August, always with the same bunch of friends (writers, musicians and artists). It is no small privilege to be invited, even for the day. (Szigligeti Alkotóház Szigliget Creative Centre, Szigliget, Veszprém County.)

2011.04.20. 15:50:08

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András Török's Budapest: A Critical Guide  

The Celebrated Insider's Guide, upgraded many times, probably the deepest and funnieast and truest portrait of any major European city. With...

András Török's Budapest: A Critical Guide  

The Celebrated Insider's Guide, upgraded many times, probably the deepest and funnieast and truest portrait of any major European city. With...

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