YKRA FACES: ÁDÁM VÁRKONYI
This month, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Ádám Várkonyi, an art dealer and gallery owner who has been a fixture in the art scene since his high school days. Ádám will be sharing his insights not only on Hungarian poster art but will also let us in on what he carries in his YKRA gear.
Hi Ádám, please introduce yourself and tell us about your background.
I’m a 37 year old art dealer, and I’ve been dealing art for around 15 years now, it’s my passion. When I’m not at one of my galleries, you’ll find me with my wife and our young daughter.
I own two galleries, one is Budapest Poster Gallery which deals with international and Hungarian original vintage posters, poster maquettes, advertising and decorative art and other, mostly paper-based works of art and historical documents. My other, newer venture is November Gallery, which deals with 20th century art and unique artifacts, and we run it together with my partner, Zoltán Földvári.
When and how did you realize that you wanted a career in art dealing?
It’s an area I’ve always been interested in, and as my parents are artists, we’ve had an artistic affinity in the family, although this was primarily focused on theater, drama and music. My affinity towards visual culture, antiques and artifacts has always been strong, and I've been collecting all kinds of things since a very young age. My interest and passion for collecting had become obvious by the end of my high school years, and even more so by the time I finished university. I realized that if this was something I wanted to spend a lot of time doing, I could, as long as it became my profession.
How would you describe the profile and purpose of your galleries?
Budapest Poster Gallery has been around since 2008, and in its official, institutionalized form, since 2010. The backstory is that I started out collecting old posters, and at the time, Hungarian poster art wasn’t something widely appreciated. It was relatively easy for me to start collecting and then trading, and this is despite Hungarian poster art being among the best in the world—it’s definitely in the top 10. I also founded the gallery to provide a space for research, to process, share and trade posters and designs. The world of posters is a fantastically rich one, and I've been working in it very intensively, since the age of twenty, and yet it still holds surprises for me each day.
As for November Gallery, we founded it with Zoltán Földvári three years ago, it was a natural progression. I started out with posters, while he had started out with old books and we wanted to take things to the next level. Dealing with paintings is a more difficult and far more complex field than with paper-based antiques and artworks, the competition is higher, and of course so are the numbers. Paintings require very specific expertise, so it’s about continuous learning and developing your knowledge. We discovered that there are plenty of Hungarian artists with great works, but they’ve not been treated properly in the canon, for example 20th century women artists and generally, art by women, which is a very, very exciting area, as is Naïve art, or Hungarian Art Nouveau. We decided to join forces to discover these areas, as it’s obviously better than going it alone. The process is also very exciting and we’re still in the early stages.
Do you have any favorite posters?
Oh sure, but they change all the time. When I first started collecting, my vision was a collection of modernist posters, the avant-garde of the '20s and '30s, which, by the way, Balázs (YKRA’s co-founder) is also very fond of. But I soon realized that posters of this period are super expensive and generally unavailable, and I had to start looking in other directions as well, but luckily this led me to building up my knowledge. My fascination for this period is alive and kicking once again, but the situation concerning prices and availability hasn’t changed.
What does your daily routine look like?
My average day revolves around family and work. As my daughter is still only 16 months old, we have a morning routine with her and my wife, and once I’ve helped get the day started, I’ll head off to work.
My day is either spent between the two galleries, or at my third job—a foundation and exhibition space in the Balaton Uplands. It’s basically a private museum, which was set up by an art collector couple in 1997. It was founded to house non-traditional exhibitions, which aim to develop and influence the public taste, and I'm also a trustee of this non-profit institution. It’s home to an array of very exciting work, and we organize a fantastic exhibition each year.
On my weekdays I’ll be at one of the aforementioned three locations, and at the end of the day I go back home to my family, so that's how I’d sum up my days lately.
What are your hobbies outside of work?
I have several hobbies, but with my expanding family my hobbies haven't been getting much attention lately.
Ceramics is a main hobby of mine, and I learned the tricks of the trade from my good friend Gábor Somoskői, the founder of Kezemura. I used to visit and learn from him at his studio. I enjoy creating different objects and if all goes well, we fire them once or twice a year in a kiln in Kecskemét.
I’m also a devoted mycophile, mushroom picking is a great way to unwind and it suits my „collecting attitude” very well. I started out foraging with a famous Hungarian artist Attila Stark. We’ve been friends for a long time, and I’m also a big fan of his work. We started spending time together out in the wild about six years ago.
Another hobby of mine is hiking, mainly in the Buda Hills, but as my wife is from Szombathely, we also spend time in Vas County. The Buda Hills, Börzsöny and the Pilis Mountains are my three main destinations.
Lastly, I've been playing guitar since I was seven—mostly blues, and I consider myself to be a perpetually enthusiastic amateur.
What’s in your bag?
Sheet Music - This score is of a blues song based on a poem by Attila József. My dad, Mátyás Várkonyi is the composer, and both the poem and this blues piece are among my favorites.
Guitar String - I usually play electro-acoustic guitar, and the last time I strung my guitar, after about two hours one of the strings broke. I replaced it from this pack, so it’s been lying around in my bag ever since.
Tools - I always have tools on me, I use them for hanging pictures on the wall. It’s a great feeling once the pictures are up, and the framing process is also such an exciting area with endless possibilities. A good frame will really help to emphasize the beauty of a picture, while a bad frame suffocates it.
Mushroom Knife - Picking mushrooms is the perfect activity for me, it’s a combination of foraging, collecting, gastronomy and spending time in nature, which are my go-to pastimes blended into one. So this knife is essential. I love to cook and I’ve worked in gastronomy-related jobs as well, I've written for magazines and gastro columns too.
Survivor Tool - I call it my survivor tool, as it has all the screwdrivers and can openers you’ll ever need.
Compass - Although I don’t go hiking or foraging mushrooms to extreme places, it never hurts to have one on you, you never know when you might need it.
Thermal Bottle - Water is the source of life, so I like to have a bottle on me. It's thermal, lightweight, and easy to use, with no complicated locking mechanism.
Books - We have quite an extensive library of art books, specialist books, and so on. While the internet is a very good resource, reading and learning from books is inevitable.
Japanese tea - I'm very fond of Japanese and Chinese tea, I haven't had any coffee for around ten years now. As part of my tea drinking habit, I also became interested in tea culture and the ceramics I drink my tea from. I approached Gábor Somoskői around six years ago, after deciding I’d like to make my own objects and ceramics. Instead of giving me the cold shoulder, he welcomed me to his studio, and taught me how to create them. A lot of my pieces end up as presents as I make too many to keep them all.
Gyula Tichy Catalog - Gyula Tichy was a great master of 20th century Art Nouveau, and a fantastic figure who passed away too soon. He had an exhibition at the Hungarian National Gallery, which was wonderful. I’d definitely recommend checking him out.
photos by Botond Wertán