Around five years ago, mini statues began appearing around Budapest, adding a new dimension to the UNESCO World Heritage Site for those with a keen eye.
On the banks of the Danube River in Budapest sits a military tank pointed directly at the world-famous parliament building. It’s of little threat though as it stands about two inches tall, its barrel drooped downward, seemingly in disappointment, either in understanding the horrible situation it was part of in its past or realizing that peace has caused it to be out of a job. This “Sad Tank,” a piece of art, is one of several mini statues created by Ukrainian artist Mihály Kolodko around the city.
“It’s a memory of the ’56 revolution,” explains Kolodko, affectionately called Misha by friends. Everyone in Hungary talks about the revolution and it’s even marked by a national holiday. “I felt I needed to say something in a different way.”
Social Commentary and Whimsy
Kolodko minis have become part of an activity, with locals and tourists seeking out the statues on self-created scavenger hunts. While many claim to know the number of statues out there, that’s unlikely, as even Kolodko claims not to know. “It’s the art and the meaning that matter, not the number.”
Sometimes the meanings of the statues are obvious, but more often, they take some thought, knowledge of history or culture, or interpretation. What they all have in common is whimsy. Take, for instance, the statue of the dead squirrel lying on Falk Miksa utca (street) with a gun in its paw.
Nearby, you’ll find a full-sized statue of Peter Falk, as Colombo with his dog. The Colombo statue was somewhat controversial as it was part of an urban renewal project that seemed to link the actor with the 19th-century Hungarian politician, Miksa Falk, the eponym of the street; the two are unrelated. Poking some fun at this, as well as a small tribute to irreverent Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, Kolodko installed the squirrel “in order to give Colombo a mystery to solve.”
Some of his statues depict political figures, like the recently installed mini statue of Emperor Franz Joseph lying in a hammock on Liberty Bridge. Though an important figure in Hungarian history, no statue of the emperor exists in Hungary, and he’s not very well thought of by many in the country. “I felt like Hungarians didn’t really want a statue of him. I wanted to design a statue of him, but not like a memorial to him, but in another kind of situation. I felt that, even if people don’t want to see him here, he’s here in history, so this is just remembering him and not a tribute to him.”
For International Women’s Day, Kolodko installed a mini statue of Hannah Szenes, a young woman who joined a paramilitary resistance that parachuted into Hungary in an attempt to stop the deportation of Jews during World War Two.
Kolodko explains his “Libido” statue with a slight smirk and a giggle. Upon first look, it’s a simple balloon dog with his bone sitting in front. Look closer and you’ll notice nipples on the bone. The work is a commentary on the work and personal life of artist Jeff Koons, whose pop-culture work is generally either loved or loathed. He’s well-known for his balloon animal sculptures made of stainless steel with mirrored finishes.
Koons was married for about a year to a Hungarian-Italian porn star and former member of the Italian parliament. She and Koons collaborated on a series of paintings and sculptures of the two of them having sex. According to Kolodko, the balloon dog depicts Jeff Koons, and the bone with nipples is his wife, known as Cicciolina.
Sitting on the corner of Dohány and Osvát streets, near the celebrated New York Café, you’ll find “The Diver.” This helmeted scuba diver, holding a key in his left hand, builds on the myth that, just after the cafe opened, playwright Ferenc Molnár threw the key of the café into the Danube so that it would never close again. The diver depicted seems to have found the key.
Why Mini Statues?
Born in 1978 in Uzhhorod (aka, Ungvár), Ukraine, at the time part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, Kolodko attended Lviv Academy of Arts where he studied Monumental Sculpture; the Soviets loved their big sculptural showpieces. “I realized that, since the Soviet times ended, I didn’t need to do this anymore.”
Many large sculptures are privately commissioned to display in a home, garden or private institution. Those who commission the art tell him what they want and sometimes, the size. Kolodko enjoys having more creative control, but larger sculptures cost more money to make. Mini sculptures don’t require a lot of money and this work doesn’t dictate where they’re placed. Kolodko wanted to create public art. “Compared to a sculpture at home, there’s only one family, or one person that can be affected by the sculpture. But if it’s outside, then people are passing by and can walk around it. It has an effect on more people and from different sides. If there’s a square where there’s nothing, I design a sculpture that brings life to the square and brings people together”
While many artists create pieces for their own enjoyment, Kolodko likes creating art that makes people feel good and fosters a sense of community. His first, and possibly best-known piece in Budapest, did just that. You’ll find Főkukac, a happy little worm known to most Hungarians from a cartoon they grew up with, sitting on the banks of the Danube. “I knew nobody would pay for this sculpture to be created and placed,” Kolodko mentions with a smile. “But I knew it would make people happy.” In the winter you might find the Főkukac with a tiny scarf made by a local admirer wrapped around his neck or a hat on his head. Recently, you might have seen him wearing a mask to keep safe in Covid.
People often wonder how Kolodko, like another well-known guerilla artist, Banksy, installs his artwork in public spaces in secret. Installing the art is a family affair. “I bring my two daughters (aged six and ten) when I install the pieces. The people pay attention to the girls so I have the chance to install the pieces.”
Finding the sculptures for yourself: While it’s fun hunting down Kolodko’s art dotted throughout Budapest, it’s also a great roadmap to enjoy the beautiful architecture and vibe of the city. Most of the sculptures can be found by simply searching for Kolodko on Google Maps. You can also rent a bicycle from bike-share company MOL Bubi to search out the statues and tour the city.