Art for function rather than just form

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by koshkha on October 5, 2013

We spotted the Museum of Applied Arts when we were travelling to our hotel. The building was just so eyecatching that as soon as we got to hotel and checked in, I had to find out what it was. We discovered it was the Museum of Applied Arts and that it was only a couple of stops down the Metro line from us. We had got lucky and arrived in Budapest on a very special night – the annual ‘Night of Museums’ or Muzeumok Ejszakaja. To celebrate mid-summer and the shortest night of the year, hundreds of museums across Hungary open late into the night for visitors who’ve paid a single, much-reduced fee to see as many museums as they can manage.

Hungarian is one of the world’s strangest languages in which almost nothing looks anything like it would in any other European language. The word ‘Muzeum’ is one of the few exceptions so you might imagine it will be easy to find one but Budapest has so many museums that you really need to know what you’re looking for. Not only what the museum is ‘of’ but also how that’s written in Hungarian. This is the Iparművészeti Múzeum and it certainly helps if you can recognise it on a sign.

Some of the facade of the building was covered up by hoardings so we couldn’t see it in all its glory but it’s clearly a place built with joy and pride. The deep green roof tiles, the pale yellow facade set with flower patterns, the domes on the roof and the strangely shaped windows all celebrate what the museum has inside – the applied arts. The architect was Ödön Lechner, a Hungarian leader of the Secession movement. He was also responsible for the city’s Geological Museum and the Postal Savings Bank. The Museum – like many of Budapest’s great public works – was built to celebrate the 1896 Millennium and it claims to be the third oldest museum of applied arts in the world after ones in London and Vienna.

We had already paid for armbands to give us entrance so we didn’t have to queue to pay. We passed through the rather small entrance area where the walls are decorated with Zsolnay tiling. Zsolnay is one of Hungary’s best known ceramics factories and there are plenty of examples in and on the museum. We asked at the information desk for advice on how to tackle the museum and took the recommendation to start upstairs, work through the two main exhibition areas and then return back to the ground floor.

We started off in the Bigot Pavilion which is named after a French manufacturer of architectural ceramics. The Bigot collection had been found in the basement of the museum where it had been stored ever since the pieces where bought from the Paris World Fair in 1900 and had never previously been exhibited. The displays included fireplaces, decorative friezes, archways, doorways and other architectural components. The exhibits are characterised by blocky stylistic designs, two tone glazes that drip into one another, and plenty of human and animal forms.

The second section we visited was the ‘Masters of Art Nouveau’ collection which showcased some of the best of European and American applied art from the late 18th century as well as plenty of rather second rate local stuff. It sounds unkind when you’re in a Hungarian museum to criticise the local artists but their local ceramists and glass artists truly couldn’t hold a candle to the French. It’s just unfair to put the work of Zsolnay factory on display alongside pieces by Daum, Galle, Lalique and Tiffany. There are some examples of jaw dropping beauty in the room but there’s also a lot of stuff from local producers that just looks shabby in comparison.

Next stop was the so-called ‘Collectors and Treasures’ section which is laid out around the central courtyard on the first floor (or second if you’re American). This part features 400 pieces of applied art that illustrate the depth and breadth of the collection. These are the outstanding examples of what the curators believe visitors should see. There’s an astonishing range of product types; clocks and instruments, lace and clothing, statuary and furniture, dinner services and religious icons, jewellery and perfume bottles, cutlery and crockery and everything of outstanding quality. It’s an excellent display for people who like to see a little bit of lots of different things in a relatively short time.

Our final collection was back on the ground floor where they were showing a temporary exhibit which included another broad selection of different things. Some of these were graduation shows for local art schools whilst we also found several exhibits by British ceramists. I was excited to find a piece by Peter Beard, as my husband knows him well. In excitement I got out the camera and got told off for taking a picture because the temporary exhibitions are strictly no photography.

We returned to the central covered courtyard which is architecturally the highlight of the interior of the museum. It has a high glass roof which made the interior feel like a greenhouse and there are decorative arches all the way around the perimeter which put you in mind of Mughal or Hindu architecture. For the Museum Night there was a small market set up inside the atrium selling arts and crafts and a small stage for performances. We watched a bizarre fashion show performance involving women dressed in plastic bags.

The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm and is closed on Mondays. You can get there by Metro line 3 to the stop called Corvin-negyed or by trams 4 or 6.
Museum of Applied Arts
Ulloi ut 33-37
Budapest, Hungary, 1091
+36 1 217 5222

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