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Egy este a Lukács Archívumban. Lukács György és a kortárs képzőművészet

An evening in the Lukács Archives. György Lukács and Contemporary Art

Művészettörténeti Értesítő
Author:
Katalin Székely

Abstract

On the occasion of the 125th anniversary of György Lukács's birth, the Georg Lukács Archives affiliated with the Institute for Philosophical Research of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences held a one-night show, Interventions, that was conceived and organized by artist Tamás Soós who invited Balázs Beöthy, Miklós Erhardt, the artist duo Little Warsaw and János Sugár to contribute to the event.

There is a considerable difference between Lukács's reception in Hungary and abroad (mainly in the Western world). In his native country Lukács has sunk into near oblivion, while elsewhere – also on the occasion of the jubilee – several conferences and publications support the reinterpretation of Lukács's legacy parallel with the renaissance of the Western new left. Gail Day's recent essay looks into Lukács's legacy in fine arts. She argues that Lukács's concept of realism is probably best represented by Allan Sekula's art whose “critical realism” is indeed connected to Lukács's late concept of art in many respects. She also introduces the notion of “militant citoyen” in her analysis of the Lukácsean legacy of engaged artists depicting social issues in an agitating manner (e.g. the Radek community or the chto Delat? group). The Hungarian reception of Lukács is far more ambivalent because of historical and political reasons. His impact on contemporary Hungarian art was not exclusively philosophical, his function as an ideologist and his relentless hostility to the avant-garde had occasionally more direct effects on the art production of his time. His antipathy to the avant-garde is not only visible after the communist turn of 1918 and the parallel “Weimarisation”: for Lukács modern art was essentially anti-art already in 1907 because it was not culture but fashion that determined its face – he claimed. Although he stood up for the new progressive art of the Eight group, in his writing The Ways Have Parted (1910) he still insisted on the conventional relationship between artist and public. For him, the warranty of “new constructivism” was an art emanating harmony, peace and tranquility, and in this respect he is closer to Kant and Hegel than to the avant-garde that he defended in the essay. His ideas on art were deeply influenced by his friend Leó Popper after whose untimely death Lukács lost contact with contemporary art. He was less interested in art and was tempted more and more to use painting only as a pretext to explicate his ideologies.

In 1918 Lukács joined the Hungarian Party of communists. During the Republic of councils as a deputy leader of the commissariat of Public Education he was in charge of the art directories led by progressive artists of the period. Although he defended Lajos Kassák and the periodical MA he edited against Béla Kun and his comrades' attacks, but his harsh criticism published during the artist and his circle's emigration in Vienna, determined the reception of Kassák for many decades. During his emigration in Moscow, Lukács made attempts to elaborate a system of Marxist esthetics with Mikhail Lifshitz and he got into debates with Ernst Bloch, Bertolt Brecht and others, whether German expressionism should wholly or at least partly be considered as part of cultural heritage. He connected expressionism politically to social democracy and ideologically to fascism (and its precedents). In terms of form, he prescribed classical legacy, rejecting the formal realm both of the avant-garde which he saw as decay and chaos, and the dry naturalism of Stalinist esthetics. With an unexpected turn, Lukács shifted the topic of the polemic from expressionism to realism. During the decades-long debates he was arguing with philosophers like Walter Benjamin and Theodor W. Adorno, who rejected the dogmatic character of Lukács's esthetic and political views.

After World War II, Lukács moved back to Hungary. Though he was not directly involved in politics and held no state or party position, the communist leadership entrusted him with an important task as they needed internationally acknowledged prestigious experts who could help spreading Marxist ideology among the intellectuals. He was not the official ideologist of the party but his critical writings of this period still greatly influenced cultural trends of the next decades. In his Hungarian theories of abstract art (1947) Lukács applied his theses of the expressionism debate to the book of Béla Hamvas and Katalin Kemény, as well as Ernő Kállai. Lukács argues that abstraction “opposes to the centuries-old practice of European art” and hence it is not a “normal” shift of style. The Hamvas–Kemény book as well as Ernő Kállai's The Hidden Face of Nature were the most important theoretical writings of abstract and surrealist artists after World War II. Hamvas's book Revolution in Art, co-authored with Katalin Kemény, followed the unfolding of Hungarian art from Károly Ferenczy to the European School. Lukács's article therefore contributed not only to the silencing of Hamvas but eventually also actively contributed to creating a hostile and unbearable situation for the European School and the Group of Abstract Artists. “Silenced into a legend”, Hamvas became an important point of reference for the so-called Zugló circle and the young Hungarian avant-garde artists.

Lukács passed down his inexorable anti-avant-garde views to his disciples, too, who could only discover the art of their age moving away from the aged master. However, only few of them had actual contact with neo-avant-garde artists. At the end of the sixties, with the contradictions of his life and work, Lukács was the defender of the (conservative) middle-class culture versus socialist realism and at the same time the main ideologist of socialist realism; with his revolutionary and hereditary interpretation of Marx, he paved the way for democracy while at the same time he was a doctrinaire communist; he was a philosopher of international reputation and a has-been scholar, the apologist of “mandarin culture”, the minion and persecutee of the system. Nevertheless, Lukács was present in the mentality of avant-garde art because despite his ideological dogmatism he represented a bourgeois esthetic culture (often downright in opposition to the regime) which had a kind of ethos compared to the bureaucratic indolence of power.

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Intervenciók a Lukács Archívumban. Lukács György és a kortárs képzőművészet II.

Interventions in the Lukács Archives. György Lukács and Contemporary Art II.

Művészettörténeti Értesítő
Author:
Katalin Székely

Abstract

The archive has been one of the most popular topics in the humanities of the past few decades. The archive as such has not only influenced historical, art historical, cultural anthropological research, but it has also become a corner stone for philosophical and art theoretical thinking. In Derrida's conception, there are two forces at work in an archive: one is that of conserving, the other is destructive, the latter phrased as “the archive fever” (mal d'archive) which works against conservation, wishing to destroy (to suppress). A good example of this two-way force may be the so-called “Heidelberg suitcase” which, after Lukács's death, turned out to have been deposited in a Swiss bank safe. It contained the philosopher's early writings, sketches, diary and correspondence. In Lukács's oeuvre biographical and autobiographical elements are mixed, life is replaced by “lived thinking”.

The Lukács Archives is located in the philosopher's last apartment in Budapest, it is both a memorial and a research place. Contemporary artists' Interventions in May 2010, in memory of the 125th anniversary of the philosopher's birth, partly explored the law-creating power (arche) of the archive and partly the hidden sides of Lukács's life and work. Lukács had been an inspiring source for contemporary art. László Lakner's book objects and hyper-realistic book pictures (1970) tried to explore the relationship between philosophy and art in general and presented, at the same time, Lakner's (critical) attitude to the philosophical sources. Lukács also appeared in a different role, in film, approximately at around the same time: in the legendary, censored and banned film by Dezső Magyar entitled Agitators (1969). The script was the adaptation of Ervin Sinkó's documentary novel, Optimists by Dezső Magyar and Gábor Bódy. Writing the history of the Hungarian Republic of Councils of 1919, they used several personal recollections, including those of Lukács' and Sinkó's. The directors of the film approached the events of the Republic from the viewpoint of the so-called “ideological group”, action was often replaced by speech in the film, and they used archive film footages, uniting Eisenstein's “intellectual montage” and Jean-Luc Godard's propaganda language. Also, György Kemény painted a secco in a room of Ferenc Kőszeg's apartment in 1972, at a time when the renaissance of Marxism and the rejection of “existing socialism” did not yet involve total disappointment from Marxism. The iconography of the mural was worked out by the then-tenants of the room, philosophers György Bence and János Kenedi. The secco represented not only Lukács himself but also Angela Davis, as well as Leo Trotsky. Photographer Gabriella Csoszó and curator Lívia Páldi have been working on an accurate photo-documentation of the Lukács Archives since 2008. Some of these photos under the title Shelves were on view at the Budapest Kunsthalle's exhibition Other voices, other rooms – reconstruction attempt(s), fifty years of the Balázs Béla Studio. Interventions was conceived and organized by artist Tamás Soós who, like Lakner, was inspired to study Lukács by his childhood and youth memories. Soós' approach to the archives and also to Lukács is esoteric: the figure of the philosopher can only exist in allusions (consequently, his attitude to him is uncritical), through his books and the narration of his most important student and follower. The figure of Lukács has been faded by time: even to talk about him is already history, he himself belongs to the archive, simple past has turned to past perfect. Soós is preoccupied by the melancholy of this transiency against which one may fight with dreams, remembrance, meditation.

In János Sugár's intervention, the archive appeared as the place of preservation and law. Sugár did not wish to evaluate Lukács' oeuvre: in his interpretation it is the archive itself that is to be preserved. Sugár focused on the actual state of the Lukács Archives, its functioning at the mercy of economic and political decisions. The central element of his intervention is the gesture of conservation. He sprayed onto the wall, under a picture of the study room, one of his earlier graffiti works (Arbeite gratis oder verrichte eine Arbeit die du auch gratis machen würdest [Work for free or do a work that you would do for free]) so that, in case of an evacuation of the archive it is revealed as a warning, a deterrent for the liquidators.

Miklós Erhardt's intervention presents the philosopher as an active political actor, “Realpolitiker” whose activity in this capacity also raises ethical questions. Addressing those who were present, he revived a historical event of 1919 (as the political commissar of the Red Army, Lukács ordered seven people to be shot dead), a fact that is to be faced up to here and now. The covering of a crushed memorial plaque was his reflection upon the inclusion of a historically and politically laden monument in the archive as a piece of furniture, i.e. meaningless surface.

Balázs Beöthy addressed Lukács' the Soul and Forms, and installed his research findings in the memorial room of the archives on Lukács desk. Beöthy was interested to pinpoint the biographical-philosophical moment that made the young Lukács choose between personal life and work. Of all Intervention participants, it was Beöthy alone who studied the documents in the archives instead of just trying to capture the “spiritus loci” or the figure of the archive-founder philosopher in general. Next to photo copies of Lukács's private letters (first of all Irma Seidler's letters) Beöthy put a video piece (Hancsi) narrating a love story from his own life that had some similarities with that of Lukács'. Beöthy does not only question Lukács's choice: the video is a testimony that the question itself – life or work? – is fundamentally wrong. Life is the source and model of the work – as the dedication of Soul and Forms also supports.

It was Lukács “alive” (impersonated) who was the protagonist of the intervention of Little Warsaw (András Gálik and Bálint Havas). Their attempt to present the real person in his original setting can be seen both as a minimalist performance and as a hyperrealist statue. By giving shape to a quasi mythical figure, Little Warsaw also put their finger on one of the sorest points of Lukács' esthetic thinking. Their intervention confronted Lukács' realism concept with the everyday realities of contemporary art. By conjuring up the figure of Lukács in this environment, the dusty backdrop of the archive, they did not only ask how it was possible to preserve anyone's memory, but also pondered how to face the historical-esthetic and political legacy and its contradictions of the most prominent and influential Hungarian philosopher of the 20th century.

The present paper is the second part of two connected essays (following One night at the Lukács Archives: György Lukács and contemporary art, Művészettörténeti Értesítő 61. 2012/1. 1–31). Both attempted to present a special point, Lukács' antipathy to modern, avant-garde art that is obviously there in his work ever since its beginning. Even though Lukács carried the flag for 19th century classical realist art, his writings influenced the art discourse, he influenced thinking in the 20th century, and his ideas were important for contemporary artists, even if in the form of rejecting them. The Archive Fever was working in these Interventions as well, and the same fever may help to demolish the wall between Lukács and contemporary art.

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László Beke once said: ‘we can consider conceptual art as anti-painterly, or, anti-traditionalist art. For this reason, everyone, especially painters with a good perspective, had to decide for their own how to handle this. [...] The same problem occurred again at the beginning of the 80s when the same artists, who had become conceptual, had to decide whether to begin to paint again. [...] This can be described as the great conflict between traditional and conceptual art in general.’ This conflict that I would call La querelle des conceptuels et des traditionnels is presented in this paper through the work of the Hungarian artist Gyula Konkoly and his twofold, controversial relation to the tradition of painting and to conceptual thinking. Konkoly, a classically-trained painter, who is mainly known as a pop art artist and as one of the earliest protagonists of object art in Hungary, with his Manifesto from 1971/72, ceased every kind of ‘grand art’ activity for almost two decades, until the end of the Eighties, when he returned to painting.

In most of his works from the Sixties, it was the episteme of painting that he was dealing with. On the one hand, he quoted the great masters of art history in many of his paintings, using their works in a pop art context, pairing them with abstract, hardedge surfaces. On the other hand, as a skilled painter he inserted resin imprints of his own hand on the canvases that represented the notion of craftsmanship and also the idea of the ready-made. It was the motif of the skilled hand of the artist that had to be destroyed when he got involved in conceptual art and in anti-art activities. At the first Iparterv exhibition he presented his seminal work Cage: An Academic Study (1968). In an unrealized project for a solo exhibition it was also the artist’s hand that he planned to bury. By the deconstruction of the artist’s personality and by the symbolic destruction of the artist’s hand, the symbol of the mastery of his métier, Konkoly came to the conclusion that this process, the total dematerialization of art and art object has reached its end making every kind of artistic activity pointless.

The great paradigm shift of conceptual art thus led in Konkoly’s career also to a major turning point, to an almost two-decade long pause in his work. When returning to painting at the end of the Eighties, it was again, through his skilled artist’s hand with which he resumed his meditation on medium and métier, on colours and forms, and on the episteme of painting in general. Thus the thesis of this paper is that Konkoly’s work may be seen as a continuous and – almost – lifelong meditation on painting, on its basic structures, its relationship to its tradition and to the reality it expresses, and its epistemological value when compared with other, more abstract and philosophical, conceptual modes of art making.

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