Comment An auction on 3 October at Stockholm’s Auktionsverk produced extreme results as far as the standing of Hungary’s 20th century expatriate art is concerned. The Swedish press have called Endre Nemes’ (1909-1985) output one of the most exciting oeuvres of the 20th century. Even with such a build-up, the auction produced astonishing prices (around USD 100k) for Nemes’ chef d’oeuvre paintings. Most buyers were Americans. Such a price slot has been denied to most other Hungarian expatriates with the exception perhaps of Simon Hantai, Tibor Csernus and Judit Reigl all of whom lived in France while Nemes was building his career in Sweden.
Now, while Hantai, Csernus and Reigl throughout were reckoned with as top-notch expatriate Hungarian painters , Nemes, for all his high recognition in Sweden, remained largely unknown in his native country. To his death, he did not have a single exhibition of his works in Hungary and was rarely, if at all, reckoned with as a protagonist of Hungarian painting, whether expatriate or domestic. Like many Hungarian expatriate artists of Nemes’ generation (e.g. Schöffer, Kepes, Vasarely) who bequeathed their works to the Hungarian state or their native city, Nemes donated 254 of his works to the Pécs Janus Pannonius Museum two years before his death. (He had been born in Szilvásvárad near Pécs.) The 400 paintings left behind by him, however, were put up for sale at that 3 October auction rather than bequeathed to his native region.He might well have had a grudge against pre-war Hungary since as a Jew he failed to get an artist’s education in Hungary. He left Hungary for the Prague Art Academy and by the late thirties he had quite a few promising exhibitions there of his post-cubist pictures enriched with a marked Surrealist touch. As a Jew, however, he was well-advised to leave Prague shortly after the German occupation. Returning to Hungary must have been out of the question for him since Hungary had by then enacted its second anti-Jewish legislation curtailing the presence of Jews in most areas of culture and the economy.He found refuge in Scandinavia and came to be decorated with many awards and a professorship in Sweden. Still, the financial success of the auction has stunned Swedish public opinion not least because the financial crunch seemed to have no effect at all on the flamboyancy of the auction. His Still life of 1936 (reproduced above) fetched seven times as much as its estimate, while his Grand parade and Dream with a white horse both of 1944 have tripled their estimates. On the whole, the hammer prices reached some 40 per cent higher (SEK 540m) than the total estimate of the lots (SEK 390m).A loss for the prestige of Hungary as a nation, or a gain? The fact that yet another great Hungarian-born master has reached the top echelons of the art market is certainly reassuring but it says a great deal about Hungary’s past policies (re-emerging as matters stand today), policies that have practically forbidden Hungarian artists to attain fame and recognition in their own country.
ReviewJános Major – Self-Portraits Without a Mask2Bs Gallery15 October – 10 November
Acclaimed by his fellow-artists more than by officialdom, the graphic artist János Major (1934-2008) was an enigmatic, subversive, and highly original proponent of his rebellious 60s generation. By looking at his self-portraits drawn up along classical graphic and etching traditions, yet demonstrating a rich texture of modern psychological and existential problems, we can come close to an extremely individual mind pre-occupied by Jewish identity after the Holocaust, the psychological and philosophical position of Hungarian Jews amid popular anti-Semitism, and not least, the deeper issues of his own sexuality and eroticism in a precarious social situation. In a rare interview Major granted he compared his own mindset to that of US writers Allen Ginsberg and Philip Roth.The sheer force with which he confronted conventions and taboos, the experimental courage with which he faced the most substantial issues of his times have a powerful effect even today. What Else to See Illustrations made by Róbert Swierkiewicz to the Sanskrit tales Vetala-Panchavinsatika can be savoured in the strangest of places, in the Funeral Museum of the State Cemetary in Fiume Road between 13 October and 1 December. For long an admirer of Hinduism and Buddhism, Swierkiewicz presents his latest assortment of paintings and drawings steeped in those religious traditions. Three more Hungarian expatriate painters, all of them former or current residents of France, are making their presence felt in the Budapest art scene. Kálmán Makláry’s Gallery introduces Budapest art lovers to the work of Francois Fiedler and Paul Hargittai (Makláry has been the main importer of fine Hungarian expatriate painters and sculptors over the years). The double bill can be relished until 10 November. The Municipal Gallery of Budapest at Kiscell presents a grand selection of recent large paintings by János Bér entitled A Kiscell Consolation. Bér’s show is open to the public between 12 October and 11 November. Haas Gallery comes up with a memorial exhibition of painter György Litkey’s work. Litkey (1907-1975) is another proponent of the interwar KUT association of painters waiting to be rediscovered. The show is open between 17 and 29 November. Scheffer Gallery launches another double bill on 18 October, a joint show of the late sculptor Frigyes Matzon’s grandiose statue dedicated to Bartók’s Concerto, and painted reliefs executed by his painter son Ákos Matzon. Also on 18 October, Ludwig Museum will open its show Human Dignity and the MOME Generation, a show of photographs on the theme of human dignity taken by former students of Budapest’s Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design. The exhibitors: ANTAL Barbara, ÁCS Alíz Veronika, BAKONYI Bence, BALLA Vivienne, BALOGH Balázs, barnie, Dennis Michael Khieffer BEVIZ, BÉRCZI Zsófia, BOGNÁR Benedek, BUDA Gábor, Cinthya Dictator, DARAB Zsuzsa, EMBER Sári, FABRICIUS Anna, FÁTYOL Viola, GÁLDI VINKÓ Andrea, GOMBÁS Bianca, GYURKOVICS Anna, HODOSY Enikő, KÉKESI Donát, KOLESZÁR Adél, KOZÓ Attila, MARINKA Zsuzsanna Alexandrovna, MÁTÉ Balázs, MÁTYÁSSY Jónás, MISETICS Mátyás, MOLNÁR Ágnes Éva, MÓRÓ Máté, Nem Bettina, ORAVECZ Éva, Jasmine SHAH, STANDOVÁR Júlia, SZENT-IVÁNYI Réka, SZOMBAT Éva, TASKOVICS Dorka, TURÓS Balázs, Jelena VISKOVIC – PÁLL Tamás, ZAGYVAI Sára Finally, Open Structures Art Society (OSAS) will on 19 October launch another show of its series introducing constructivist and geometric trends, this one promising to be as intriguing as educative, in the Vasarely Museum. (It can be visited until 13 January, 2013.) The show entitled Chance as Strategy will concentrate on the role of accidental forms and movements in recent international art. To be introduced by critic and collector András Szöllősi-Nagy, the show will provide samples from the work of such well-known domestic or foreign-based artists as Alpár Bujdosó, István Haraszty, György Kepes, András Mengyán, Manfred Mohr, Vera Molnár, István Nádler, Géza Perneczky, András Wolsky and many others.