Katalin Néray: From neo-avantgarde to transavantgarde
Art historical research has only recently started investigating the ’hidden dimensions’ of the art of the 1960’s, the birth of Hungarian neo-avantgarde. We are now beginning to see clearly the course of development which led progressive Hungarian art from the painters of nagybánya, through the Café Japan and the Grand Hall of an Inner City Industrial Planning Institute /IPARTERV to the other ’alternative’premises. These were exhibitions held in private apartments, various clubs and hotels, and cellars and attics and even int he lion cave at the zoo. The absurd logic of licensing and prohibitions was even more difficult to understand from an outsiders point of view. It was however, the seemingly inconsistent measures of the political authorires that made possible the casting of roles and functions int he peculiar structure f Hungarian artistic life. What was not allowed in Budapest was tolerated if it was taken away to a certain distance from the capital to towns like Székesfehérvár or Pécs. Naturally this was helped by the courage and decency of the scholars working in these museums. The work which , to this day, has been aiming at the systematic mapping of the progressive tradition in Hungarian fine arts and at the introductory display of the new phenomena began in the early 1960’s, more precisely with the Csontváry exhibition held in 1963 in the István Király Museum of Székesfehérvár. The same motives have fuelled the efforts made by the Janus Pannonius Museum of Pécs in setting up a collection and founding a museum, and enabling some significant artists to live and work there untill the present times. Int he complex and contraversial scene of the 1960’s two dates stand out from the pint of view of Hungarian neo-avantgarde. One was the Studio Exhibition of 1966, where, followed by an apprpriately large scandal, the generation which was later to grow decisively significant among the Hungarian neo-avantgarde trends, had their first chance to exhibit their works in large numbers. This was followed in 1968 by the first IPARTERV exhibition / Bak Imre
, Frey Krisztián, Hencze Tamás
, Jovánovics György
, Kesserű Ilona, Konkoly Gyula, Lakner László, Molnár Sándor, Nádler István
../ which was the first one since the breaking u pof the European School to reach back to the results of international art, to Western European and American developments. Naturally, the often repeated accusation was formulated in those early days, namely that this art is buta n aping, a delayed copying of the West. It is obvious that Hungarian and Eastern European phenomenon generally, cannot form a clear parallel with the events of international artistic life, partly because modern art is often interwoven with a forced political function. Apart from this the survival and reinterpretation of the national tradition of the national tradition has brought about the appearance o fan avantgarde art which is new in its internal relations. The second IPARTERV exhibition was held in 1969 / to the list of artists was added the names of András baranyai, Miklós Erdély, László Méhes…/, evoking an equally large scandal in official political circles. Later the members of the group went their separate ways: many of them emigrated, thus further increasing the losses suffered by modern art in Hungary. This group was very heterogeneous in terms of style. Their range spread from pop-art, through hyper-realism, hard edge, abstract expressionism, and op-art, to organic abstract and happening documentation. These exhibitions were only open for a very short time but theireffect, and moreover their legend, has not lost its power up until the present day. In 1980, when these artists were regarded less as heretics, anoher exhibition was organised on the original premises. In 1979-80 a whole series of exhibitions, aiming to discover Hungarian neo-avantgarde, where held in the tiny gallery of Óbuda and were still capable of creating a scandal in official circles. On the 20th anniversary of the legendary exhibition the Fészek Club confronted the artists and their new works with their old selves ina n exhibition of hommage. An important exhibitionhad been held in Pécs, in 1970 entitled Mozgás ’70.
The 20th anniversary inspired the original organisers to re-exhibit the works of twenty years earlier alogside present day developments. This exhibition concentrated ont he representations of constructivist and kinetic optical tendencies. It was the rediscovery and integration of the constructivist tradition that gained the greatest international appreciation for Bak Imre
, Nádler istván, Fajó János, Mengyán András, Keserű Ilona even in this early period , as they managed to combine it with the work of the Hungarian representations of Bauhaus. This generation also found it important to refer back, to some extent, in their motifs and colours, to the Hungarian folk art tradition and to questions of Hungarian national identity . In this form this programme was first undertaken by the Szentendre artists, Vajda Lajos, Korniss Dezső, and Bálint Imre, int he spirit of the Bartókian creative method. Apart from young constructivist and abstract artists’ work of this kind they were mainly produced by Korniss Dezső, using embroidery motifs from sheperds’ cloaks. The conceptualist tendency became dominant in the 1970’s partly represented by artists whowere temporarily or finally moving outside constructivism and partly by artists involved in pop art. But these were also joined by jounger artists, like the members of the Pécs Workshop: Pinczehelyi Sándor
, Halász Károly
, Ficzek Ferenc..The most influential and versatile personality within conceptual art was Erdély Miklós who, apart from his activities int he fine arts left behind him a rich oeuvre int he fields of literature, photography and film. Many of those artists of the 80’s who are significant today used to be members of the Indigó group that had been founded by Erdély Miklós. A more thorough examination of Erdély’s creative heritage is going on at the moment, an exhibitionof his works, to be held bot hat home and abroad. Apart from the work of Erdély, taht of Attalai Gábor, Maurer Dóra is also significant. Lakner László, Bak Imre
, and Jovánovics György
also involve themselves in conceptual art.
Int he second half of the 1970’s parallel with the repression of economic reforms, pressure was gradually increased in cultural policies as well. This forced a large number of people into deliberate exile, especially int he fields of literature, philosophy and the visual arts. Parallel to this there emerged int he West an image of Hungary in which it was seen as the jolliest barracks int he Eastern camp, the country of goulash communism and later of refrigerator socialism, where there was relative freedom and well being. Beside the partial truths inherent in these descriptions few people were able to recognise the misery and continul degradation of intellektual life. At the same time, after the end of the ’60s a break through made it possible int he area of the fine arts to display in Hungary several exhibitions. This was mainly motivated by the interests of foreign politics and it was also a yielding to demands from abroad that meant that the activities of opressed personalities was gradually allowed. This was the first time when prominent expatriate Hungarian artists were allowed to return to the country with a large exhibition. /Vasarely, Schöffer, Kepes/. It was no longer possible to behave as if nothing had happened. The gradual wekening of the totalitarian regime and the increasing power of the opposition brought along a slow normalisation of the situation, in which modern art began to be viewed from a differetn perspective, no longer as an enemy. But the happy ending is yet to come if there is such a thing at all, it belongs to the history of the ’80s. at any rate it was at this time that the neoavantgarde reached the stage of the transavantgarde. Moreover, Hungary even saw the miracle of members of the ’great generation’ becoming active under the flag of New Painting, together with the younger artists, the representatives of transavantgarde. All over the wold this is often considered as the betrayal of the avantgarde although in this country, this, like many other things, appears in a peculiar form. International transavantgarde lives alongside the rather conceptualist forms of installation, action-art and happening, as well as with alternative musical production and poetry. It is often practised by the same people. The works created in hommage to, or for that matter, ont he pretext of El Greco, represent exactly this versatility and complexity.
Dr. Néray Katalin, Director Museum Ludwig, Budapest
In: Cat. Hommage a El Greco, Museum of Fine Art, 1991