Museum of Applied Arts: Budapest

Whilst googling, flipping through various guidebooks, websites and tourist information portals ahead of my festive trip to Budapest, the Museum of Applied Arts (and more specifically its stunning glass-roofed main hall) constantly stood out. Constructed in the 1890’s as a masterpiece of Hungarian art nouveau the building was purpose built to display and promote the country’s crafts and skills in an optimum setting; mixing eastern oriental influences with western vernacular architecture, alongside traditional Hungarian green and yellow ornamental tiling, and a huge exterior dome. Having walked along the river Danube, I approached the museum from the rear and was initially fearful that all my preparatory reading had been in vain and it had closed down! From the exterior the museum looked forlorn and almost derelict, and although its’ appearance improved a little at the main entrance it was far from the show-piece I was expecting. Once inside, the double-floor oriental arcade and glass-roofed hall charm, and the permanent collection of gold and silverware, aristocratic clothing, costume jewellery, furniture, ceramics, artworks and weapons are pleasant but not especially memorable. The two temporary exhibitions ‘Breuer – at Home Again’ and ‘In the Mood for Colours’ feel very modern, fresh and almost out of place in an otherwise tired and dated museum. The Breuer comprising strong examples of the Hungarian architect and furniture designers’ creations, and the Colour exhibition cleverly playing with perception by arranging the collection by dominant colour rather than historic period or style. The show is also accompanied by the ColourMirror project, an interactive installation which digitally reflects visitors’ clothes matching them to an object within the museum collection – which certainly engaged me on a search to find my ‘match’ within the collection! Despite a saddening lack of investment, it was heartening to see plans for refurbishment and redevelopment and I hope it is reformed into the grand building it once was.

For more information visit their website

The House of Terror: Budapest, Hungary

This year (technically last year) I spent Christmas in Budapest; a city I’ve been keen to visit for many years and having now been find it difficult to fully make sense of. Straddling the Danube, it was brimming with late nineteenth century architecture (both original and recreated), art-deco and art-nouveau (again both original and recreated!), littered with festive markets and the scent of mulled alcohol, and even snow on Christmas eve. Amongst all of this seasonal cheer I visited the less festive House of Terror which helped make sense of this interesting city and its need to restore, rebuild, and indeed remember. The museum focuses on the brutality faced by Hungarians under both the Nazi and Soviet occupations, and also acts as a monument to those who were imprisoned, tortured or killed within the building itself. You are greeted by a tank in an atrium three floors high with black and silver portraits of victims displayed floor to ceiling. The rooms leading away from this atrium outline the fear, chaos and inescapable presence of these regimes by illustrating the propaganda, secret police, uniforms, religious attacks, forced-labour camps and gulags of both the Arrow Cross Party (Hungarian Nazis) and Soviets, as well as a mock polling station when there was a one-party “democracy” in place, and numerous examples of Hungarian resistance. A lift slowly moves visitors down to the basement, at the back of which a plasma screen shows a documentary revealing a variety of execution methods in a manner devoid of emotion. Once in the basement you are faced with a series of cells where prisoners were kept in a cruel, damp, confined conditions – one cell simply has a noose in it. Situated on a main boulevard, this museum provides a bleak and powerful image of life during that period and the horrors that openly took place within the heart of the city.

For more information visit their website