The exhibition space on Nagymezo utca 8, Budapest, in one of the tallest building on the street, is known a Ernst Museum. However unlike a proper museum the organization does not possess a collection of artworks of any kind, and can be officially called only a gallery. And there is a history behind this misleading name ‘Ernst Museum’, that uncovers how special the organization is.
First time the exhibition space opened its doors in May 1912. Public was invited to visit an exposition of artistic and historical objects and the building, freshly created upon order of Lajos Ernst, a Hungarian art collector, son of a Jewish merchant, who received his noble titles and status for remarkable and unforgettable activities in benefit of Hungarian culture. Being a real amateur of art Ernst believed that art is a necessary part of a national culture and a way strengthen patriotic spirit of the Hungarian nation. He started collecting at the age of 15, in 1890s, and by 1910s he had a collection sufficient enough to participate in exhibitions, and even devote a permanent space. And thus in 1912 Lajos Ernst’s collection has become the first collection in Hungary shown to public in its own museum while remaining in private hands.
The building the collection was placed in was designed in a very contemporary way. First of all apart of the museum space the building included a cinema and several studios to be rented out. It was also situated between other apartment houses, whereas a traditional idea of a museum implied separation and seclusion both morally and physically. Ernst Museum was not built to become a temple of art. The artistic experience was presented in a way to be close and available for the civic population. Ernst though of his enterprise as of a garden of art, designated to introduce everyone to the beauty of art along with the greatness of the Hungarian nation. The same idea can be clearly seen in the design of the building. The architectural style can be characterized as art nouveau popular in Europe of the times, however with a contemporary touch, and decoration elements resembling traditional Hungarian art. It was so up-to-date that ‘journalists performed lack of vocabulary to describe it’. At the same time certain elements underlined the superiority of historical experience and importance of Hungarian tradition, and classical art.
Another interesting feature of the precedent is rooted in contemporary idea Ernst had on the account of art and art collecting. Even though his vision of the role of art for society was incredibly innovative for the times, Ernst widely was not a supporter of contemporary trends of art. Trying to introduce art as a whole in personal-preferences-free way he created diverse exhibitions; his collection included objects and artworks of all types and styles, even unfinished sketches, not widely appreciated yet. Nevertheless the privilege of Hungarica could always be felt: separate rooms was devoted for relics related to Hungarian culture and history.
Throughout decades the museum and its original founder went thorough a lot of drama. The museum was privatized by the state during the USSR times, changed its owners, and was even closed at times. Being opened in 2002 under the guidance of Mucsarnok, Ernst Museum preserved its original name to commemorate its founder. On the legacy of Lajos Ernst the featured exhibitions and events follow freely the original idea: the garden of art.