For most Hungarians zipping along the waterfront of northern Budapest on scooters and bikes, a stone post at the beginning of Moscow Promenade flashes by unnoticed. For those in the know, however, the plinth warrants a much closer look.
Atop the post is a cigar-sized sculpture depicting Vladimir Putin and the ill-fated cruiser Moskva. The Russian warship was famously defied by Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island, and later sunk. The Moskva sculpture is one of dozens of tiny bronze monuments scattered throughout Budapest that have spawned specialist tours and won Kolodko a cult following among tourists and locals.Kolodko was born in Uzhhorod, Soviet Ukraine, in 1978. In 2010, the artist began planting miniature statues throughout his home city in western Ukraine."I could have waited for years for an order for some monumental sculpture," he told RFE/RL. "Instead, whenever I had enough money for a kilogram or two of bronze, an idea, and a good location, I just went ahead myself."
The illegal mini-monuments in Uzhhorod, he says, were often a way to draw attention to local historical figures who had been ignored by Soviet authorities and who independent Ukraine didn't have the budget to honor with large monuments. As the Uzhhorod statuettes gained fame online, Kolodko realized "when people can photograph them up close they fill the frame in just the same way as a big statue." The tiny monuments were soon having an outsized impact, attracting more tourists than full-scale monuments that had cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce. In 2016 Kolodko relocated to Hungary, initially living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment he shared with his wife and two daughters. Kolodko has Hungarian heritage and remembers fondly his frequent trips to the country when he was a child. Kolodko began stealthily emplacing tiny statues throughout Budapest soon after his arrival. Initially Kolodko paid tribute to cartoon characters that he remembered watching on Hungarian television in his childhood. The guerrilla artist says he emplaces his statuettes in daylight, sometimes with his children playing nearby. So far he has not been questioned by police while working. Many of Kolodko's works play on themes from Hungarian folklore and history. The tourists seen above are photographing one of Kolodko's most popular works -- a deep-sea diver clutching a key outside Budapest's opulent New York Café.The bronze diver references a legend of author Ferenc Molnar hurling the key to the New York Café into the Danube River to prevent staff ever closing the doors to the magnificent establishment.
Recently, Kolodko's work has touched on political themes that have rubbed some people the wrong way. In 2019 Kolodko made a sculpture of a Soviet ushanka cap atop the kind of pillow that bears Hungary's Holy Crown. After placing the monument near a controversial Soviet War Memorial, a politician, apparently misreading Kolodko's statement, smashed the artwork with an ax and tossed it into the Danube.
In place of the destroyed ushanka monument, Kolodko placed an ax atop a velvet pillow (above) to commemorate the unusual political vandalism."I can't not do it," Kolodko said of the political art that costs him money and time. But he says although he has several ideas for new war-themed pieces, the people of Budapest "need a break, they can't be given a new sculpture every day." Kolodko added: "My followers don't love my war work -- they love the themes that are very Hungarian, that give them a connection to their past. These are monuments to their childhoods, and to mine, too. "In 2022 a tour based around the sculptures was launched. A spokesman for the company behind the "hidden mini-statues" tour told RFE/RL it mainly attracted Western tourists, whereas locals tend to prefer hunting out the statuettes themselves on weekend walks. Inside Kolodko's studio, what may be the next guerrilla mini-statue to appear on Budapest's streets sits awaiting its final touches. The artist asked that photos not be shared of the artwork, but its depiction of two beloved children's characters -- one British, one Russian -- is likely to be popular with both carefree children and well-read politicos. (RFE/PG)