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The sixties, whichever way we look at it, was the sixties, it was impossible to keep quality non-existent, and as is seeped into the exhibitions, cultural politicians attempt-ed to create some sort of more or less accurate balance between official and real art – though always to the avant-garde of the former.
1960 saw the National Exhibition of Applied Arts, a politically neutral genre. As in any dictatorship, applied art had much more liberty then either painting or sculpture, with the result that applied artists were much closer to Europe than the participants of official exhibitions. There was an attempt to augment the Studio with newly formed groups of artists, such as the collection of ten young sculptors (Mûcsarnok, 1961). “The Eights” had been a fondly remembered progressive group of artists of the beginning of the century and “the Nines”, intended to represent the official co-existence of the socialism that had crushed the revolution (Mûcsarnok, 1966–68). The material shown included some paintings and sculptures on socialist themes as well as bourgeois art. The group failed quietly. The main themes of the exhibition entitled “Among Working People” (Ernst, 1968) were housework, gardening, and possibly peasant couples sitting on the porch.
Sándor Mikus had a large exhi-bition at the Mûcsarnok in 1961. The largest statue of Sta-lin, which was his work, was pulled down and destroyed by the crowd during the 1956 revolution. Along with the compulsory political pieces he showed female busts and nudes.
The exhibition of the painter György Kohán, the sculptor Miklós Melocco and Erzsébet Schaár took place in the small hall of the Mûcsarnok. A living myth of many years had preceded Béla Kondor’s (1931–1975) exhibition. His drawings appropriate the language of Bosch, Dürer and Rembrandt, but along with his drawings he also showed his pastels and oils at the Adolf Fényes Hall (1960). He expresses his rich series of associations in allegories and symbols with exquisite skill. At the vernissage the small gallery was crowded not only with with fine artists but with authors and musicians, in other words, with the otherwise thinking intellectuals. The young graphic artists using reproduction technologies – they called themselves the Kondor school – whose thematic and formal tendency was opposed to soc-real found it easier to show their work than innovative painters. However, the Kondor school did not have an exhibition as a group until later at the Miskolc Biennial of Graphic Art.
The painter János Kmetty had an exhibition at the Adolf Fényes Hall (1961), while Géza Bornemisza, student of Matisse, was allowed to break his long silence at the Ernst (1961).
The art of László Viski Balás, leaning from mature post-impressionism towards associative abstract, must be saluted. He died on the last day of his exhibition at the Ernst Museum, among his own paintings. Some further important exhibitions of the decade at the Ernst were introductions of the artists Endre Szõllõsi (1964), Erzsébet Udvardi (1964), and István Gádor (1966).
Ten years after the revolution state control was visibly relaxed, for instance Endre Bálint, founding member of the European School Introduction Hall of the Institute of Cultural Relations – ICR, 1967).
Further exhibitions worthy of mention were the following: the introduction of Margit Anna (Ernst, 1968), Imre Varga (ICR, 1968), the poster artist György Konecsni (Mû csar nok, 1968). What’s more, even László Lakner, the pure pop-art painter whom the cul-tural authorities found so irritating, was allowed to exhibit his works (ICR, 1969).
Textile designers organized the exhibition “Textile Picture ’68” independently, and thereby initiated the textile revolution. The party dictatorship did not take them seriously, Gábor Attalai, Lujza Gecser, Aranka Hübner, Marianne Szabó, Zsuzsa Szenes and Margit Szilvitzky could show new tendencies even at official exhibitions.
The Parade of Universal Modern Art
The sixties began with three large international exhibitions: the International Exhi-bition of Children’s Drawings (Mûcsarnok, 1959), the International Exhibition of Female Fine Artists (Mûcsarnok, 1960) and the 5th International Exhibition of Railway Men (Mûcsarnok, 1960). None of them was a high point of grand art, but their local value was different in the years of hard dictatorship. The public had an opportunity to see original surrealist, non-figurative and abstract paintings, sculptures, objects.
After its stay in Prague the British would have liked to send their large-scale Henry Moore collection to Budapest. Hungary refused to receive it out of “vigilance”. Finally, a very fine smaller collection (Ernst, 1961) comprising photographs of Henry Moore’s sculptures (taken by the artist himself) and a single bronze sculpture arrived as a compromise.
In the exhibition entitled Contemporary British Painting we saw works by Lucien Freud, Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson and Graham Sutherland, among others (Ernst, 1963). The large Henry Moore exhibition also arrived in 1967. It included mon-umental standing, sitting and lying sculptures intended for outdoors public palaces, a collec-tion of drawings and sketches. The Hungarian public made the pilgrimage to the exhibition in droves, just as it did on the occasion of the 1967 Picasso exhibition at the Mûcsar nok. Visitors could view Picasso’s reproduced drawings, line engravings, lithographs and color linocuts.
In 1968 the Mûcsarnok received an exhibition entitled 45 Years of Modern Belgian Fine Arts, and a Fernand Léger Collection. An important and up to date attraction of western art was provided by the collection of the École de Paris (Mûcsar nok, 1968), which included works by Bazine, Dubuffet, Hans Hartung, Manessier, Masson, Pignon, Seuphor, Jesus Rafael Soto, Viera da Silva, Árpád Szenes, Simon Hantai and Vasarely. Vasarely sent his collected works as well (Mûcsarnok, 1968). Amerigo Tot also had a small exhibition (ICR, 1968).
The 1972 Chagall exhibition (Mûcsarnok) also belongs in this glorious series. Seven paintings, line engravings, lithographs, exhibition posters and books illustrated by the artist awaited visitors. Chagall himself was not received in Budapest, he was represented by his daughter, Ida Chagall. There was a news ban before and after the exhibition. The public queued all day in long lines in front of the Mûcsarnok.
New and Less Than New Works
The society of fine artists announced a comprehensive exhibition for 1970 under the title New Works. Almost the entire arts scene was allowed to participate (members of the society and others), including avant-garde and pop-art. It was an unprecedented moment. National exhibitions had previously been forbidden territory for the moderns. New Works ’70 was banned, then given permission again in 1971 (Mûcsarnok), with the inclusion of a large number of “trustworthy” pieces. The mixing and decomposition of styles was the guiding principle of the arrangement, partly resulting from dilettantism and partly to hide the avant-garde in a haystack.
The national exhibition was then called off for three years. However, the 30th anniversary of liberation was celebrated with a Jubilee Exhibition (Mûcsarnok, 1975). This was counterbalanced by the Jubilee Applied Arts Exhibition.
An international traveling exhibition entitled Thirty Victorious Years, in which all socialist (communist) countries participated was started in 1975 in Berlin. Pavil-ions of the Budapest International Fair were rented for it as the halls of the Mûcsar nok proved too small. It included a shared hall featuring the fine arts of the history of the international workers movement.
Lajos Sváby made the jury vote individually on every one of the 240 participant of the exhibition entitled Painting ’77 (Mûcsarnok, 1978). The Exhibition of Hun-garian Sculpture, which attempted to break with the boredom of the ones previous, was opened shortly afterwards (Mûcsarnok, 1978). The overall impression made by that exhibition of sculptures – on the European scale of the late sixties – was conser-vative, but not outdated. The jury gave up its old straight laced ways. It passed works by Géza Samu and Mihály Schéner. The collection on show in the halls was accompanied by an outdoor exhibition of sculptures in the front garden of the Mûcsarnok.
The Studio in the Seventies
In the seventies the Studio of Young Fine Artists was no longer a straggler. Their 1970 catalogue contains such names as András Baranyay, Imre Kocsis, László Lakner and Árpád Szabados, albeit in the graphic art section. The repertoire of the Studio was enriched by Ádám Kéri in 1973, Gábor Záborszky in 1976, and El Kazovsky, László Fehér, Imre Bukta and Géza Samu in 1978, and by many others: the Studio served as a springboard for a number of great Hungarian artists. Yet they did not dominate the group of young artists, a Studio style, possibly even a school, was created. That style is difficult to define: it is a rarefied reflection of certain, already forgotten directions of Western art. We see wide and narrow brush strokes on the canvasses, Studio members followed their former teachers at the academy, Endre Domanovszky and later, Ignác Kokas. There is no lack of craftsmanship, painterly culture, elegance and general education, only artistic content is in short supply. The point is proved by the way that the powers that were, the arts trade and the nouveau riche all identified with that artistic behavior. In short, the Studio failed to become the determining factor of the Hungarian program of exhibitions again between 1970 and ‘80.
The Self Financing
“Some we support, some we allow, some we forbid” became the slogan of the cultural politicians of the single party state from the end of the sixties. Being allowed was the lot of the so called “self financing” exhibitions. These had to be financed by the exhibit-ing artists themselves. That was extremely humiliating in a country where all other exhibitions were financed by the state. In our country, the people forced to pay a “kitsch tax” were the very people whose exalted art was the furthest of all from kitsch. At the same time, kitsch was victorious among subsidized artists.
The first self-financed exhibition went to the greatest master, Lajos Kassák (imme-diately after the great success of his series of exhibitions in Western cities and capitals). In the last decade of his life, Kassák took up painting again. His pictorial architecture, his planar painting, which at most hinted at a third dimension, almost improved on all Hungarian and international abstract trends. He was forced to put on his selected retrospective in the small Adolf Fényes Hall. That 1967 exhibition was the farewell of the painter Kassák: he died later that year. Other self-financiers, young artists worthy of him, followed in his footsteps.
Ilona Keserü, with her suggestive reds, with her canvas textile applications. István Bencsik created a sensation with a new art form. He modeled portraits and torsos in an academic style, organized in plane divisions, from cubes of hardwood. János Major’s classic graphic surrealism created an absurd formal language of criticism (Adolf Fényes Hall, 1969). The non-rectangular canvases exhibited by Imre Bak were a stylistic novelty at the time. Gyula Konkoly built three niches out of decaying pieces of wood, whose insides could be peeked at through square window holes: the viewer was confronted with bits of bread, chicken bones, salt, water, wine, and bits of conceptual text. The real window opening onto Rákóczi Road was also transformed into a peek hole, affording a view of tired, gray faced pedestrians in tattered clothing outside (Fényes, 1970). In those years, István Nádler was paraphrasing folk embroidery in an abstract idiom. The subject of György Jovánovics’ monumental white plaster object was a table reduced to everydayness, rotated into a corner and covered with a white plaster tablecloth. The table was surrounded (sat around) by the Nádler paintings (Fényes, 1970). László Paizs, who set plants, newspapers, stag beetles, coat hangers and medals into blocks of plexiglass; named his actually neo-Dadaist works “conscious fossils”. Paizs’ works were the first appearance of Plexiglas as a medium in Hungary (Fényes, 1972). The picture object of András Orvos is the eternal symbol of hippie and pop-art, the rose. He cut enlarged images of roses in red and in other loud colors into identical squares, and placed the fragments next to each other in a pseudo-random fashion (Fényes, 1972). Along with squares and right angles, János Fajó, the stubborn constructivist also used dynamic circles, arcs, curved lines and patches of color placed within them (ICR, 1975.)
By the end of the decade the institution of self-financing disappeared by attrition. The income was negligible, while the humiliation could only be felt by the painters and sculptors concerned themselves, as the stigma of self-financing always remained a well kept secret.
The Range of Sufferance Widens
The slow and orderly retreat of soc-real (post-soc-real), i.e. propaganda art, continued in the seventies, though that may be misleading, as even at that time the majority of exhibitions were still those approved by the government.
From 1970, it was no longer only the small galleries managed by the Mûcsarnok that modern artists could mount – self financing – exhibitions. The gates of the centrum, the Mûcsarnok, were also opened occasionally to those on sufferance, at least if their works had heads, hands and feet. Being allowed to show at the Mûcsarnok did not imply being classified as a supported artist, neither did it bring money or prestigious prices. Nevertheless, the showing of the contemporary history of art did begin, and with unprecedented breadth. The great elders were canonized in the seventies. The exhibitions of István Gádor (Ernst, 1970), Béla Czóbel (Mûcsarnok, 1971), Pál Miháltz (Mûcsarnok, 1972), István Pekáry (Ernst, 1973), György Román (Mûcsarnok, 1978) were all celebrations. The exhibition (Mûcsarnok, 1970) of Tibor Vilt (1905–1983) was centered around his enormous, angular, sky-challenging, anthropomorphic sculptures. Erzsébet Schaár (1909–1975) placed her rigidly standing, or possibly progressing, oblong-bodied, bronze-faced figures of women and girls between walls, open windows and doors, thereby creating an actual and a metaphysical space simultaneously (Mûcsarnok, 1970). In her series on Christ, Piroska Szántó depicted the lonely peasant Baroque and peasant Rococo tin Christ’s of the highlands north of Lake Balaton, through a Szentendre optic. (Mûcsar nok, 1970.) Also in 1970, Béla Kondor (1932–1975) showed his large oils and pastels at the Mûcsarnok. Despite the loose brushwork these compositions, which spoke in his new, personal formal idiom, and which were difficult to decipher (often with allusions to daily politics), still projected a tremendous cohesion. At the center of Kondor’s graphic art was a series of monotypes that used a newly developed technique, entitled “Portrait of somebody”. One of Kondor’s devotees, Csaba Rékassy, followed Dürer and Bosch. In his copperplate prints, delirious visions were expressed in logical, minutely detailed, classicist drawings, which lack neither irony nor humor (Mûcsarnok, 1971).
Ferenc Martyn (1899–1986) never had a large exhibition at the Mûcsarnok. Yet his collection of ink drawings shown at the Helikon Gallery (1972) were influential despite its small size. His characteristic, animated, living abstraction, whose planer figures make a plastic effect, is given expression in the drawing style of old masters. His art is pedan-tic romanticism and sensitive order. One of the spiritual lead-ers of the textile revolution (that has been mentioned before), Gá-bor Attalai, discovered the extra-ordinary plasticity of hanging shapes of felt for himself. His exhibition was essentially a precursor of deconstructionism (ICR, 1972). Erzsébet Vaszkó (1902–1986) was a secretive painter with rare public appearances. Her hallmark is reduction to serious, somber, formal forms of expression, with an accompanying narrowing of her range of colors all the way to blue, dark hues and black. Her pictures are the structural sketches of figures, non-existent heads and letters in pastels (ICR, 1973). At his first retrospective, László Bartha showed a collection of paintings from 1927, beginning with his Transsylvanian themes, through the figurative paintings resembling Latin-American art, to his subtle construction of figures of French elegance, or to the associative, abstract transcription of his landscapes (Mûcsarnok, 1974). Bartha’s brushwork and economy of colors puts him among the few genuine Hungarian colorists. At the exhibition of his collected works the Szentendre painter Pál Deim summarized his fully formed shapes and colors. He differentiated man to a lathe turned skittle pin, adding his constant background, a mass of paper clips running in thick parallel diagonal lines (Mûcsarnok, 1974). The organic abstraction of Árpád Illés (1908–1980) cannot be assigned to any Hun-garian or foreign schools. His paintings in egg tempera are decorative and dynamic, his patches are even. That, and the order of sharp boundaries, reduce their essential anima-tion. Menyhért Tóth (1904–1980) is said to be a naive, folksy painter, yet his paintings of almost empty, richly textured and transposed surfaces, which are also separated from their backgrounds by faint boundaries were the result of an original theory developed in many years of practice as a pictor doctus. That reductionism bordering on emptiness makes him an individual figure within Hungarian painting (Mûcsarnok, 1976).