Gallery on the Eve of the 21st Century



2019 is an important year in the history of the Polish Institute in Budapest, as it marks two anniversaries at once: the institute was established 80 years ago, while its gallery of contemporary art, Platán celebrates its 20th anniversary. Platán Gallery opened its doors in 1999 at a venue on Andrássy Avenue that used to accommodate a popular Polish store. Its name is an allusion to the famous plane trees (Platanus) of Budapest, indicating that the gallery was meant to be a long-term enterprise. 

Gallery at the Dawn of the 21st Century

The Platán Gallery came into being at the turn of the 20th and the 21st century, in a year ever so important in the history of Polish-Hungarian relations, on the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Polish Institute on May 24, 1939, sixty years after the outbreak of World War 2 and the arrival of the first Polish refugees in Hungary. The fact that the gallery of the Polish Institute could come into existence is the legacy of artists, academic and cultural institutions, and the traditionally cooperative relation between the Polish and the Hungarian society.

Hungarian artists started to build connections with Polish galleries as early as the '60s and that was when the Hungarian critics also became keenly interested in Polish art. As a consequence in 1973, on the 500th anniversary of the birth of the great Polish astronomer, Mikołaj Kopernik, or Nicolaus Copernicus, the Polish Institute organised a large-scale exhibition of Hungarian artists under the title "In Memoriam Kopernik” (Kopernikusz Emlékkiállítás) in the hall of the Budapest University of Technology.

Exhibitions of Polish artists, including the debuts of Józef Szajna (Ernst Museum), Wladyslaw Hasior and Magdalena Abakanowicz (Műcsarnok / Kunsthalle Budapest) in the '70s and '80s were accompanied by a vivid interest on the side of Hungarian artists and critics, as well as the art-loving general public.

The exhibition/auction organised upon the initiative of the Polish public and Hungarian artists, accommodated by the Institute, the proceeds of which were donated to the National Museum in Wrocław, severely damaged as a result of the devastating Polish floods of 1997, was not a mere art event, but rather a gesture of sympathy towards Poland.

The Festival of Polish Art – Polonia Express (1996-1997) opened up a new chapter in the history of Polish-Hungarian relations, as it presented an unprecedented showcase of Polish arts and culture. Held at the Műcsarnok / Kunsthalle Budapest, the exhibition titled “Polish Art 1945-1995” was yet another proof of the favourable perception of Polish art in Hungary.

At the same time, entailing the festival’s widespread promotion, the claim arose for Polish art to gain continuous presence in Hungary. Owing to the support and benevolence of the Hungarian Ministry of Cultural Heritage as well as assistance by the Polish Foreign Ministry, the Polish Institute could open the gates of its art gallery, the name of which alludes to the famous Plane trees (Platanus) of Budapest with the desire of a long-lived enterprise. From the beginning, the Platán Gallery has functioned as a forum for artistic discourse between artists, curators and galleries. Owing to the favourable perception of Polish art in Hungary, the desire arose to bring a high-quality gallery to life, one that is open towards the art of other Central and Eastern European countries. The 18 exhibitions organised in the first two years of the gallery’s operation gave opportunity for the introduction of 11 Polish and 4 Hungarian artists, as well as one Czech, one Slovenian, and one Estonian artist.

The Platán Gallery opened its doors on November 5, 1999, with the exhibition “Péter Gémes: Diary”. The exhibition of the works of Gémes, a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, was made possible by his wife’s contribution. At the end of this year, Mariusz Hermansdorfer, director of the National Museum in Wrocław, organised a show from the museum’s valuable collection under the title “Paintings”.

Barbara Wiechno, Director of the Polish Institue, 1997 – 2001