GZÏ Art Gallery Bringing Splash of Color and French Elegance to Budapest

Art

Benjamin Dréan-Guénaïzia at an event in his gallery.

Image by Peter Szvoboda Photography.

Open for a year, Benjamin Dréan-Guénaïzia’s GZÏ Art Gallery in District VI is livening up the Budapest art scene with its French connections.

Dréan-Guénaïzia was born into the art world. He is the son of painter Myriam Guénaïzia, who the gallery represents. Growing up in Brittany, he went every week to the town of Pont-Aven where his mother has had her own gallery for the past 40 years. With more than 60 art galleries and just 3,000 citizens, Pont-Aven is known all over France as “the city of painters.”

Pont-Aven’s connection with art really began with French painter Paul Gauguin. He first came to the town in the spring of 1886, attracted by its beauty, the surrounding landscape and the fact that he could live there cheaply. Gauguin returned to Pont-Aven in 1888 after adventures in Panama and Martinique that introduced him to the exotic first-hand and so decisively shaped his art.

During his second visit, Gauguin connected with young artists such as Emile Bernard with whom he developed the style of Synthetism, which characterized the Pont-Aven School. Among other elements, Synthetism promoted using pure color.

A bold use of bright colors also characterizes the work of all the artists GZÏ showcases and the space itself.

“I do love colors,” Dréan-Guénaïzia says. “It comes from childhood. The house I grew up in was like a museum with white walls filled with colorful artworks made by my mother and the artists she collected over the years. I was surrounded by color [from] dawn to dusk. It’s not surprising color is so important to me.”

In their own ways, all the artists Dréan-Guénaïzia represents are equally committed to color, whether this is the supremely vibrant palette of his mother or the dazzling work of Hungarian Eugene Igor Prokop and Turk Volkan Coban.

Brought by Go

I never think of Budapest itself is especially colorful. I wondered how Dréan-Guénaïzia came to the city and what makes him feel at home here.

Strangely enough, it was the ancient strategic board game Go, which he has been playing since he was a child. It involves two players, with the goal to surround more territory than your opponent. Invented in China over 2,500 years ago, according to Britannica.com, it is probably the world’s oldest board game.

In 2022, Dréan-Guénaïzia won the European Championship grand prize at the Go Congress in Romania. According to an account of the final game of the championship by Matt Partridge, Dréan-Guénaïzia showed “great fortitude […] complicating the game and taking a large number of points in the center.”

“I’ve played all over Europe and Asia, including many times in Budapest over the years and made many friends here,” Dréan-Guénaïzia explains.

“I was living in Seoul, South Korea, but decided to come back to Europe. I first came to Budapest around seven years ago and loved its beauty, the architecture, the Danube, and the surrounding nature. I’d also made friends here. So, when I was choosing where to live and work, I thought, ‘Why not Budapest?’  I’d always loved Budapest as a tourist [and] had friends here, so I wasn’t alone.”

Dréan-Guénaïzia has lived in the city for more than two years and says he is happy here.

“There are more than 20 million people in Seoul and only around 1.9 million in Budapest. It’s big enough to have a very active cultural and social scene – there’s always something to do – but small enough that I can sometimes feel like I’m in a village. I live in District VII and can walk everywhere I want to go. The people are very friendly but not overwhelming. When I want to travel, there’s a great airport, and I can go anywhere I want. It feels like I have a really good work-life balance.”

A Gallery Years in the Making

With Dréan-Guénaïzia’s background, it’s not especially surprising that he chose to open a gallery, although it’s been years in the making.

“I enjoy finding new talents or helping develop established ones,” he says. “Budapest struck me as the perfect place to do so. It’s culturally rich with many exciting young artists as well as those that are more established.”

Besides supporting Hungarian talent, Dréan-Guénaïzia is keen to build a cultural bridge between Hungary and France. This begins with the artists themselves.

“Some of them I knew before opening the gallery, some were new to me. But I make a point of getting to know all of them. For me, it’s important not just to have good art that I like but also to know the artists, for us to have a good connection. Because I always put the artist first, I focus on developing natural and transparent communication with them. I’m always open about what does and doesn’t work in different markets.”

Although Dréan-Guénaïzia didn’t speak Hungarian and had to search to find GZÏ’s location, things went pretty smoothly thanks to the help of his Hungarian friends. Now, it’s about attracting visitors to the gallery and promoting awareness of the artists.

“I love the Embassy District, and we’re in a nice building,” Dréan-Guénaïzia says. “It gives the gallery a private, cozy vibe. But this is not a touristy area, so we have to find ways to bring people in.”

To do so, Dréan-Guénaïzia is holding events emphasizing the French-Hungarian connection and promoting French culture here. He had a champagne tasting at the gallery in November. February kicked off with an event involving the Le Troquet wine bar.

“The idea is to bring art, people and music together,” Dréan-Guénaïzia says, “I’m keen to partner with hotels, restaurants and companies looking to hold corporate events with a difference.”

The gallery is open every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 6-8 p.m. At other times, it is open on demand. Find out more at www.gziarts.com.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of February 9, 2024.

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