This paper examines the cross-pollination of the neo-Marxist critique of real existing socialism with the critical practices of the radical stream of the East European neo-avant-garde, and examines the extent to which the imprint of debates over the radical overhaul of the socialist system can be detected in the practices of artists and curators. Artistic affinities with the neo-Marxist debates that flared across the Eastern Bloc can be identified in a shared willingness to question authority, a subversive attitude to canonical thinking and a new interest in the role of an individual in socialist society. Considered also is the shift over the course of the 1970s from a belief in the possibility of a reformed socialism, to one of resignation, cynicism and frustration towards party bureaucracy, in which even the bureaucrats had stopped believing in the official ideology. This change in attitudes towards socialism is detected both in the change in tone in the writings of dissident theorists and in the approach of artists who could no longer muster the neo-avant-garde enthusiasm for the utopian desire to transform the world. The difficult paths taken by those, who sought to recover the radicalism in Marxist thought from under the blanket of state bureaucracy may also be viewed as a valuable source for contemporary social criticism of the post-communist order by a new generation of theorists and artists.
The paper investigates one of the most complex cases of visualizing leftist ideology from a critical, but nevertheless definitely leftist point of view within the Eastern Bloc — the case of László Lakner. Whatever way Lakner’s art can be related to several neo-avant-garde artistic strategies that ironically appropriate leftist symbols, in Lakner’s work, signs and symbols of communist ideology seem to be more than mere appropriated elements of a criticized visual and ideological system. Lakner was consistently looking for a system-critical, but leftist standpoint from the middle of the 1960s until his emigration in 1974. In this paper some examples of Lakner’s activity from this period are presented and the paper explores how he evoked documents and central figures of leftist movements, and how he used the iconography of socialist painting in a very peculiar way. The question whether some of his artistic strategies could be related to Marxist philosophy is also considered. The title of the paper refers to a conceptual drawing of the same title by Lakner that can be seen and read as an ambiguous tribute to Karl Marx.
The Hungarian neo-avant-garde appeared in such diverse artistic fields as fine art, conceptual and visual literature, happenings, theatre performance and film. For the avant-gardists Tibor Hajas, Miklós Erdély and Tamás Szentjóby, film was both a theoretical and a practical issue. There are films documenting avant-garde activities, and there are films that are truly avant-garde. Thus, the field of film seems to provide a considerable amount of material through which scholarship can evaluate the Hungarian neo-avant-garde. This paper discusses how the evidence of film fits the interpretation of the Hungarian neo-avant-garde as belonging to the “second public”, as part of cultural opposition, and as something forbidden.
The experience of socialism and its legacies in Eastern Europe created a specific context for artists’ engagement with animals and their approach to the natural world. The blueprint for building the socialist utopia had spared little concern for the environmental consequences of breakneck industrialisation, with rivers rerouted, landscapes devastated and nature viewed purely as a material resource. The welfare and interests of animals were far down the list of priorities in a system which valorised the proletariat and demanded sacrifices for the glorification of the socialist state. The cruel fate of the world’s first space traveller, Laika the dog, who was sent on a one-way mission into orbit in 1957, was symbolic of official attitudes towards animals under socialism, as well as providing a focus for feelings of empathy from human subjects that felt equally oppressed.
It was in the 1960s that live animals first entered artistic practice through happenings and performances, which occurred in parallel with the neo-avant-garde exodus from studios and galleries to enter public space and natural environments and was part of the utopian drive to abolish the distinction between art and life. However, it was only after the changes brought by the countercultural orientation of 1968, with the emergence of the women’s liberation movement, a new concern for human rights and the rise of ecological thinking that neo-avant-garde artists began to conceptually address the position of the animal. Birds turned out to be particularly appropriate living metaphors to convey the suppressed desire for freedom, as well as offering a way to explore the ethical and environmental dimensions of relations between the human and the animal.
This paper explores changing attitudes and approaches to animals in East European art of the neo-avant-garde during the Long Sixties through an examination of key works by István Harasztÿ from Hungary, Slovak artist Peter Bartoš and Petr Štembera from the Czech Republic, while considering the impact of new thinking about the natural environment across the porous ideological borders of the Cold War. Engagements with the animal were most frequently conceived in metaphorical terms as a means to talk about the human condition which, due to the specific social, historical and political circumstances of the Eastern Bloc, was particularly true of artists living under socialism.
For the Slovak art of the Sixties, as well as for following decades, the subject of space is significant. Unlike in the other Eastern European countries, the situation in Slovakia was specific because the subject has profoundly affected not only mass culture, but also the sphere of a progressive (and, therefore, non-official) visual art. The goal of the paper is to compare the artworks of two important representatives of the Slovak neo-avant-garde, let us say the part of their work which is connected to the subject of space and related topics (such as cosmonautics, extraterrestrials, etc). The two artists in question are Stanislav Filko (1937) and Július Koller (1939–2007). Although Filko and Koller are diametrically different in many aspects, they represent good ‘comparative material,’ because apart from the subject of space there is another important feature that they have in common — an overall fusion of their artistic work and personal life.
In the first half of the 60s a conflict between modern art and traditional folk art culture can be detected. The resolution of this conflict could be imagined in the form of a synthesis of the two (following the model of Béla Bartók in music). This study offers some examples of this conflict and attempts at its consolidation in the art of János Orosz (folk surrealism), Mihály Schéner (individual transformation of folk art), Miklós Halmy (search for ‘archetypal roots’), etc. The paper finally deals with the fading possibility of the reconciliation of the neo-avant-garde and folkish/rural tendencies, as well as the negative connotations of the failed attempts to achieve it.
Dr. László Végh (born in 1931), composer and radiologist played a decisively influential role in forming of the underground art scene of the Sixties. He presented (from 1958) the first local examples of concrete and electronic music compositions for the living representatives of Hungarian modernism and for the new generation of the neo-avant-garde in the quasidemocratic communities of private spaces. Due to this mediating cultural activity, his non-conformist personality and appearance, impressive network across the generations, Dr. Végh offered a new model of alternative living and the continuity of modernism behind the iron curtain. His soirées and proto-actions — for which I would introduce the term ‘intuitive actions’ – were performed with young artists of the subculture, and led to deconstruction of traditional art forms through pieces of avant-garde and experimental music, while opened up the way for happening and fluxus.
This paper focuses on the relation between the acquisition activity of the Moravian Gallery in Brno (officially founded in 1961) and the then current artistic production in the region (especially the program of the Brno House of Arts). While the collection of modern art — that originated before the official foundation of the gallery — was built in correlation with the current interwar exhibition activities of various art associations, in the 1960s the Gallery’s acquisition policy becomes selective. The reasons may be found in the diversification of modernity — personal preferences — political pressures — censorship — and/or the inability of the institution to deal with dematerialized art and newly emerging art forms. The text examines the position of the progressive trends of neo-avant-garde and conceptual art within the professional (institutionalized) art scene through specific examples of work, from the perspective of a significant Czech institution. Specifically, the essay deals with the works of art by Milan Grygar, Miroslav Sonny Halas and an informal group called ‘The Brno Bohemians.’ It also contains a brief excursus on a possible analogy between the authors of graphic scores in the Sixties and Seventies and the visuality of records and scores of Leoš Janáček, one of the most significant composers of the avant-garde.
The text deals with the work of Jana Želibská (1941 Olomouc) — flanêuse in the 1960s and the priestess of the Great Mother (Nature) in the 1970s. Želibská took a central position among male protagonists of neo-avant-garde in Slovakia. Her approach has been labeled ‘latent feminism’ because no real feminist platform existed during socialism in Slovakia. Želibská used the language of pop art and New Realism and their iconography mixed with the local folklore motifs in a quite different way. Pop art and New Realism entered the oeuvre of many artists simultaneously with experiments in conceptual art (Stano Filko, Peter Bartoš, Július Koller, Jana Želibská). After 1968, Želibská shifted the focus of her activities to land as an open structure outside of official supervision. Želibská made several statements regarding experiencing the magic of the present moment and experience with landscape through concepts and events that emphasized connection with nature. Photography helped her to work with continuity and causality in photo-sequences of situations and events. The path through ‘rooms of her own’ and other spatial concepts from the female labyrinth to the architecture of the temple in the 1960s, through changing open structures outdoors in her concept and land art in the 1970s, photography in 1980s, reached installation and video in the 1990s. Installations in the 1980s were built mainly on the artist’s experience with and in nature, or on the typical postmodernist contrast of the urban and natural. Puberty and virginity, which interested her in the land art events in 1970s, appeared again in her video art in a monumental demonstration of ‘girl power.’ In 1997 Želibská took the position behind the camera, shooting a naked male body without identity and face in the video installation Her View of Him. Thus she completed her shift from the ‘girl power’ of the 1960s and early 1970s agenda to fully articulated ‘woman power’.
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.