Polka Galerie is proud to present the first exhibition of Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre’s new series “Budapest Courtyards”. This young French photographic duo has been working together since 2002, achieving acclaim for their previous work, including the abandoned factories of Industry (2004-present), The Ruins of Detroit (2005-2010), the Hollywood relics of Theaters (2005-present) and the documentation of Japanese Gunkanjima (2008-2012). Now, for the first time, they exhibit their work on an inhabited location: the Budapest courtyards.
This unique new series radically stands out from the photographers’ previous work both in its form and content. Conceived around small-scale formats, as well as mosaic layouts of prints, this new approach allows the viewer to truly grasp the systematic and taxonomic nature of the work. Over the course of two years, between 2014 and 2016, the duo investigated the secrets hidden behind the Hungarian capital’s facades.
They researched the city’s courtyards from all angles: on the internet, utilizing satellite maps and scouring everything from local architectural blogs to real estate websites. Over the course of multiple visits, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre found what they were looking for.
The two photographers aimed to capture the dichotomic essence of this flagship Central European city. A city drowning in architectural paradoxes, Budapest meshes Viennese with Jewish and Ottoman influences. Its imperfection is refined; it is grand yet somehow poor, monumental and delicate, dazzling yet dark.
Budapest is like “leprosy on a goddess’s body”, a “failed” and “suspicious” city, writes Le Corbusier. Like a pastiche of Vienna, a city in itself replicating Haussmann’s Paris, Budapest is simultaneously like a medieval heiress and a daughter of the industrial revolution. But the city’s heart truly beats in its ambiguous framework and the eclecticism of its hidden courtyards. They tell the impossible history of this bizarre and uprooted Babel, escaping all architectural definition.
Staying true to their polished methodology and precise approach, Marchand and Meffre seek to establish a typology of Budapest’s courtyards. Their large format method and objective framing seem fitting to the subject at hand, reflecting the process of the godparents of German objective style – Bernd and Hilla Becher.Yet the couple’s images of the disappearing industrial architecture of the Ruhr Valley, so thoroughly photographed, now makes way for the new young duo’s depictions of Budapest’s “gangs” – the famous internal corridors running over several floors of the courtyards. These places are not abandoned. Rather, they have remained sheltered from time and from the contemporary world. Absorbing their inhabitants, the courtyards have become characters in themselves, serving as their own witnesses and storytellers. Marhcand and Meffre specify: “With their ochre walls faded to grey, their rusted archways and balconies, these places resemble Italian palazzos. Yet their narrowness and multitude of corridors reinforce the space’s symmetry, evoking an almost prison-like atmosphere. The combination is peculiar, yet fascinating […].”
The city of Budapest unveils its true face through the character and syncretism of these courtyards, “like a synthesis of historical references that have marked the turn of the twentieth century: from neo-renaissance, neo- roman, neo-byzantine, neo-gothic and neobaroque to Jugendstil, the Germanic Art Nouveau and Bauhaus, as well as a whole host of undefined interstyles derived from the above,” the photographers add. “It reminded us of the hyper-eclecticism of the great American movie theatres we visited. A kitsch yet moving assemblage that oscillates between nostalgia, exoticism and the search for modernity. This architecture, like the face of an economically and culturally globalizing society, seeks to define its identity in a rapidly diluting world.” Originally intended as only a few dozen images, the Budapest Courtyards series has quickly expanded in scale. Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre return to the city ever more frequently, discovering new hidden courtyards with each visit (400 documented to this day). The completed series compiles nearly 170 images in two novel formats for the duo: 60x75 cm and 120x150 cm. This deliberate choice by the photographers to stray from their previous largerscale work lends itself ideally to the typological nature of Budapest’s courtyards. The exhibition also presents unique-edition polyptychs, each containing 9 to 21 photographs and assembled like mosaics. To the artists, this work can be interpreted as a “descriptive ensemble of a very particular type of collective living. It is also a testimony to the remarkable history of this city, to its battles and regime changes, to its various amenities and consequent individual adaptabilities.”