Comment Sotheby’s June 15 old prints and manuscripts auction in New York saw a 1944 Swedish protective pass in Hungarian signed by Raoul Wallenberg fetch USD 25 000. The pass must have been life-saving indeed since attached to it was Budapest lawyer László Vámbéri’s post-Holocaust, i.e. June 1945 ID proving that he had survived persecution, and apparently with the help of the protective pass. Although Wallenberg had issued and signed thousands of such passes with many of them becoming fully public since the Holocaust, its mere inclusion in a prestigious auction in 2012 and the contest around its purchase (it has nearly redoubled its estimate) seem to prove that Wallenberg remains one of the most overarching figures of the Holocaust era, not least because he was kidnapped by the liberating Soviet army days after the Pest side of Budapest had become Germanrein, and was very probably killed by the KGB during the Cold War on suspicion that he might have spied for the British. Although quite a few embassy officials of other neutral countries (notably Switzerland, the Vatican, Spain, Portugal) and the IRC had considered it their moral duty to at least curb the last-ditch massacre of Hungary’s remaining Jews, and had saved comparable numbers of Budapest Jews, it is the ill-fated Swede who seems to have made the deepest effect upon subsequent generations of history buffs, who may or may not collect manusripts, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Review Foreign Matter: „Surrealism” in the Attraction of RealityA Selection from the Antal-Lusztig CollectionMODEM Centre and Museum of Contemporary Art, Debrecen16 June – 31 December
I could not make it to Debrecen on opening day but I feel I just have to return to this latest offering from the magnificent 20th century Hungarian art collection of Péter Antal. (Sámuel Lusztig was his grandfather who in the 1920s had started, and in the 1950s re-started the family collection.) Péter Antal himself only appeared on the scene in the 1960s, just in time, it appears, to acquire at affordable prices sizable chunks of available bequests (e.g. that of Lajos Vajda and Imre Ámos), choice pieces by some of the greatest protagonists of The Eight (1909-1913), the Szentendre School (1928- ), the European School (1946-1949), and the best „formalist” paintings of such neglected contemporaries (formerly of the European School) as Lili Ország, Dezső Korniss, Endre Bálint, Jenő Barcsay, or Margit Anna.Neglect is the key word for any venturesome collector, for works neglected or even frowned upon by officials and mainstream collectors are more often than not the best hunting grounds for collectors of good taste but average resources. Péter Antal has proved to be just such a collector. He has always had a hunch for spotting painters and sculptors who were „going against the grain” as it were but were extremely pleased to part with their work even at very low prices. It was recognition they were thirsting for rather than a large income, and it was recognition that Péter Antal could provide appearing as he was in their neglected studios quite out of the blue.The title of the exhibition („Foregn Matter”) can be misleading. So can the reference to Surrealism since in a Hungarian context Surrealism has always been a code-word for the attempt to grasp a surreal reality in a realistic rather than a surrealistic fashion. If the portrayal of the surreal humdrum of 50s and 60s Hungarian reality (as e.g. with Lili Ország) was to be effective it had to be conveyed, by definition, as realistically as possible. For an overall surreal effect it was reality itself to blame rather than the way it was presented.The selection of an „against the grain” heritage in Hungarian 20th century painting is a welcome warning to collectors unfolding their wings as I write. Never go for what is established and celebrated. Instead, always go for what is neglected and damned, and you cannot go far wrong. Mr Antal has only rarely gone far wrong, and that is the greatest praise one can heap on any notable art collection. No Summer RecessReeling from low sales figures, Budapest’s commercial contemporary art galleries are apparently devising a new strategy to push up sales. They are now setting up their summer outlets (e.g. in Tihany’s August ArtPlacc venture) where hopeful buyers, well-to-do vacationers, can best browse their stocks for sale, i.e. by the shores of Lake Balaton, arguably the No. 1 vacationing spot in Hungary. Hopeful buyers are allowed to wear no shirts, but certainly not to leave their credit cards in their hotels. Not that Budapest itself goes without such summer marketing ideas: Zsófi Faur’s Gallery in the capital’s new gallery district, i.e. Béla Bartók Street in Buda, has also devised a special summer offering for potential customers in summer sandals. The overriding principle is light-heartedness, very apt to capture that old vacationing feeling, and also to capture buyers who are sick and tired of the misery and brutality recorded by many overly serious artists.The Töreki competition (this village is also at a stone’s throw from the lakeshore) offers two weeks’ board and lodging (and the proximity of the cool waves of the Lake) and a supply of acrylic paint to two Hungarian or international artists who undertake to leave one of their works behind to enlarge the establishment’s art collection. (Brushes are not provided!) Also, there is a promise to put up another of their works created at Töreki for sale at the Tihany ArtPlacc. www.torekimuvesztelep.hu www.artplacc.huStill on a light note, Studio 1900 Gallery threw a vernissage last Friday for just one painting which was accomplished on the spot by Henrik Kállai while guests were eating their inevitable sandwiches and drinking their equally inevitable red wines. The emerging painting was auctioned off at the very end. Not a bad summer idea, that one, either. Preview KulturArt: Double Bill by Ákos and Frigyes MatzonLutheran Chapel and Cellar Gallery, Balatonboglár22 June – 22 July
Painter Ákos Matzon and his deceased father, sculptor Frigyes Matzon offer some serious fare for art lovers vacationing at Lake Balaton. Matzon Jr. is best known for his geometrical abstraction (reminding many of the Bauhaus and the reliefs of Ben Nicholson), while his deceased father, Matzon Sr. was one of the best of his generation in applying planar surfaces in figurative sculpture. Incidentally, Ákos Matzon has divulged that his father had tried unsuccessfully to set him upon an artist’s career, something that he opted for only when his father was gone.