Author: Antje Mayer
Year: 2012
Client: Viennafair
Published: TheNewContemporary.com

I met the Hungarian collectors Katalin Spengler and Zsolt Somlói.

A new generation of art collectors in Eastern Europe

I met them at VIENNAFAIR The New Contemporary. They are representatives of a new generation of young art collectors in Eastern Europe, who grew up in the Eastern Bloc, studied, and made their money in the post-communism period. I was surprised about their politeness and openness. Collectors are sometimes capricious creatures who shun the public like the plague. “My wife is a journalist, art critic, and art market expert, and I am the head of a media agency. Media we are used to.”

Zsolt Somlói and Katalin Spengler seem almost shy to me, but when they talk about art, the Hungarian temper can break loose. The two both often encounter the prejudice of the tasteless nouveau riche “Eastern Bloc-ers”. But Somlói and Spengler represent a new, self-aware, relatively young, middle class in Eastern Europe – educated and affluent. While the newly rich mainly buy old masters, this generation focuses on contemporary art, not only the internationally established, but also that from their own country and former socialist “brother countries”.

 

You have visited VIENNAFAIR regularly in the last years. Still a fan?
During the year we visit FRIEZE, Art Basel, and VIENNAFAIR. It’s a pleasure for us to come to Vienna. It is not so loud and crowed as in Basel or London and the CEE focus is what you can’t find somewhere else.

You collect Hungarian but also international art. Is VIENNAFAIR the right place to buy?
For us, the prices are still affordable in Vienna. We are surprised how the larger Eastern European galleries here are getting better and better. As we are collecting art from the so-called “East” it is quite important for us to stay informed, and we prefer to do this in a very relaxed way. We live in Budapest. To Vienna, we only need two hours by car. Therefore, the whole thing with transport and customs is quite easy for us.

Did you find anything this year?
This year we bought a fantastic video work by the Turkish artist Inci Eviner from the Galeri Nev (Istanbul, Ankara). The Turkish focus at this fair was a great idea. Turkey is an emerging economy, which is reflected in the purchasing power of the collectors but also in the quality of the galleries.

What are the major galleries from the Eastern region?
I would say Galerija Gregor Podnar (Ljubljana/Berlin, Hunt & Kastner from Prague, GaleriaPlan B (Berlin/Cluj), and Kistérem (Budapest). They all do a fantastic job. But: The small galleries are also becoming more and more professional.

What trends can be observed?
The conceptual tendencies and key artistic movements of the 1960s and 70s in the Eastern Bloc countries and Yugoslavia were forgotten for a long time. But thanks to the commitment of institutions such as “Kontakt. The Art Collection of the Erste Group” these important artistic positions are finally finding the attention they deserve by the private collectors and galleries.


The facts:
They started to collect in 1992 and have compiled 500 mixed media pieces up till today; Tony Oursler and Tony Cragg, but also works by Kirill Chelushkin (RU) and the Slovenian art group IRWIN. Their great love, however, is Hungarian contemporary art: Akos Birkás, Imre Bak, Roza El-Hassan, Kinga or Balazs Hajdu Kicsiny. To my ears, strange-sounding names. Again and again I have to ask them to write down the artists’ names for me. Balazs Kicsiny, for example? How do you write it? “He represented Hungary at the 51st Venice Biennale!” reminds Somlói accusingly. I apologize...