Review Foreign Matter“Surrealism” in the Attraction of RealityA Selection from the Antal-Lusztig CollectionMODEM, Debrecen16 June – 31 December Curator of the show art historian Sándor Hornyik has attached an unusually broad interpretation of surrealism to the art displayed from the most superb private collection of the country, most of which, however, would not go by that name in normal circumstances. (Surrealism was probably the least represented international movement of 20th century modernism in Hungary.) His argument, however, is well worth considering: Surrealism has always been handled with reservations, before World War II and also in the “reconstruction” period. It could not achieve to be a part of the national art scene gaining shape in the interwar years, even socialist realism did not receive it cordially; what is more, it was explicitly destroyed in this era. Perhaps this is the reason why the approach of realism became one of the most significant vantage points of Hungarian surrealist ambitions. The most significant theoretician of surrealism in Hungary, Ernő Kállai—in conformity with the philosophical trends and natural science of his age—interpreted surrealist and abstract endeavors to be revealing the hidden face of nature and the more profound layers of the world, and since the 1940s this has been the major viewpoint in the reception of surrealism in Hungary.The most significant domestic art movement of the forties and fifties, the European School (Margit Anna, Endre Bálint, Jenő Barcsay, Dezső Korniss, and Lili Ország), also specified as the most important archetype of their “non-socialist” realist efforts two Hungarian “surrealist” painters (Imre Ámos and Lajos Vajda). The former was inspired by Chagall and Bonnard, while the latter covered his peculiarly Central European path following in the wake of Eisenstein and Russian iconography, but the demise of both life works was brought about by the Holocaust. At the time of Communism and Socialism, Surrealism as a contagion of western decadence could remain a valid art strategy up until the early sixties, and in this way the works of the Hungarian neo-avantgarde movement (László Lakner, Miklós Erdély, and Béla Kondor to some extent), using special materials and vantage points, may also be regarded as a negation of superficial and propagandistic realism. The “realism”, different from the official one, was floating in front of the eyes of Lili Országh who followed the surrealist traditions of the European School and of Béla Kondor, who reached back to Dürer; the artists who created alternative realities totally different from the “real” in the 50-60s. What is more, considering the emphatic use of material and thematics, the paintings and land art projects of some contemporary artists (Imre Bukta, Tibor Gyenis) may also be integrated into the tradition of a “different”, foreign realism.Surrealism did not leap fully armed from its “father’s”, André Breton’s head in 1924 but is rather the illegitimate child of World War I. The term “surrealist” itself was invented by Guillaume Apollinaire in 1917, and Breton’s (and Philippe Soupault’s) first classic, Magnetic Fields from 1919, bears the marks of the impact of war. The Bretonian roots of surrealism, moreover, go even further back as Giorgio de Chirico created metaphysical painting in the early 1910s, and Lautréamont and Moreau appeared with their iconic works already in the 19th century. Thus it is perhaps no small wonder that the beginnings of Hungarian “surrealism” are demarcated by the work of two “war painters”, Lajos Gulácsy and László Mednyánszky, the latter of whom visited the trenches while the former found refuge from the terrors of the war in madness. Both hide alternative worlds behind their seemingly easily decodable, academic painting: homosexuality on the one hand, and schizophrenia on the other. After all, surrealism was admittedly attracted to the other and the alien finding, nonetheless, the true face of reality in them.Not only the avant-garde roots of surrealism—Dada, Expressionism—but also its provocative choice of subject matter (violence, sexuality) make the products of the “war painters” from World War I (László Mednyánszky, László Moholy-Nagy, Lajos Gulácsy) worth a retrospective look. These pieces had been created before surrealism proper was born, while they share its primary source (sensuality and irrationality). The notion of “foreign matter” may also cast a compelling light on particular artists of Hungarian realism dealing in an avant-garde application of colors and shapes (István Nagy, József Koszta, István Farkas, Menyhért Tóth), who were probing the limits of the academic genre between the two World Wars, in certain cases with positively forceful result. The works bearing the marks of various artistic intentions and diverse social-political realities mutually strengthen one another’s “foreignness” and “materiality.” This selection outlines a modern optical unconscious repressed by rational modernism, which has found its artistic expression in subject matters and materials strange, alien, and “uncanny,” from classic landscape painting to post-conceptual photography.
Preview Hello, János – How are you, Károly?A Show by János Ber and Károly Klimó, paintersThe French Institute, Budapest5 October – 9 November To be opened by the Institute’s director, F. Laquièze, the display of two excellent, like-minded painters who live geographically apart is sure to present a good occasion for visitors to witness a fertile encounter, if not merger, of contemporary painting in France and Hungary. The French Institute for years has been setting up a long series of displays both of artists and collectors tied somehow to not only Hungarian but also to French culture.