Introduction to the catalogue for the exhibition
EXPIRATION DATE: to be determined at the Ernst Museum in Budapest

The catalogue and the exhibition offer distinct and timely perspectives on a quintessential urban space: the market hall. The intent is to bring into play a dialogue about the history and significance of the market hall in urban life. It seems appropriate that the site for this dialogue is a museum of art. This is because the market hall, as a public space, can satisfy the shopping routines of daily life as well as become a site of discovery and encounter. Though is purpose is to enable less tangible exchanges, the museum is also a place of encounter and discovery.
The short essays and interviews indicate aspects of a broader discussion that encompasses a variety of vantage points: sociology, architectural history, urban studies, agriculture etc… Besides representing different themes and perspectives the authors and artists portray global perspectives on the phenomenon of the market hall.
Regardless of the discipline, the concern here is with a social institution and its place in daily life. Unfortunately, in the wake of unbridled consumerism the experience of shopping is often, and superficially, reduced to comparisons between the cost of a litre of milk in one location vs. another. These casual comparisons conveniently blur other less visible economic and social costs.
But it is the idea of the market hall as social space that is the focus of my interest. Firstly, because how the market hall functions on a sensory level relates to the experience of shopping. Secondly, as many others have commented, the viability of the market hall as civic institution and public space tells us something of the societies we live in and the dimensions that mark the rituals (and their variations) of daily life.
In this sense the market halls of Hungary, Finland and Italy – highlighted in the exhibition - are remarkable not simply because they survive but also because role in the life of the city, while precarious, is nevertheless invaluable.
In one of my earliest visits to Budapest I went shopping at the Hunyadi market hall. That incident or adventure was the starting point for this exhibition. I was surprised by the scale of the structure and the flurry of activity. Previously. I had a preconceived notion that the market hall could only as an upscale tourist attraction or as a relic from another time and place. That it could endure as a intrinsic part of city life says something about my own ignorance and the significance of this Hungarian civic institution.
These pre-existing ideas of the market hall came from experiences in New York and Chicago. The two locations I knew in New York were architecturally undistinguished and served mainly Latino communities. In another area of Manhattan there was an open-air ‘farmer’s market’ in which vendors from throughout the New York region brought their products to city to sell on specified days. In this location the demand was so great that it began to operate on a regular basis. (It is perhaps ironic that the origins of the 19
th century market hall lie precisely in seeking to eradicate such open-air markets.)
In Chicago, a city known for some outstanding architecture, the market hall is virtually non-existent. Thus, in a major metropolitan centre residents must travel, usually by auto, to a supermarket to do their food shopping. Equally important is that here in the agricultural heartland of the United States urban outlets for local farmers are minimal. Consequently, food shopping, is relegated to non-descript or, banal windowless boxes in which interaction between shoppers (between shoppers and sellers) is reduced to a minimum. The finale for this shopping experience is the check-out line where one’s identity, like the products purchased, is reduced to a number on a bar-code.
Now some might say that this is all the price of progress and that the abundant choices and variety available in the supermarket, the lower costs, are a fair trade-off for the out-of-date benefits of the market hall. Yet, what is most socially beneficial cannot simply be determined by comparing the price of apples, eggs or chickens in these different settings. Ultimately, we must factor in the other costs as well, the loss of domestic producers, the cost of fuel to travel to large hypermarkets (usually on the city periphery) and finally what we consider to be the appropriate quality and characteristics of the urban landscape.
Now, some years later, and with numerous visits to the most of the Budapest market halls (some of which have since disappeared) - with visits to numerous other market halls – my understanding of the market hall and its importance has now been altered.