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.
This paper traces the complex relations of György Lukács to visual art and aesthetics, from his early writings through his engagement with artistic politics in the post-World War II ‘people’s democracy’ transitional period and during the Stalinist dictatorship. In one sense, Lukács seems obsolete for contemporary art and aesthetics, as a philosopher and critic with an out-of-fashion aesthetic theory, justifying a canon of works opposed even to the mainstream of the 20th century modernism, and deployed in the service of a cultural politics of Soviet and Eastern Bloc socialism now seen as historically superseded and discredited. In another sense, Lukács’s non-contemporaneity may been seen through the dispersed reception of his work, particularly across the Cold War East–West divide, in which different moments of Lukács’s oeuvre were picked up and developed in divergent ways. Given these multiple contexts of reception, the author and thinker ‘György Lukács’ could never be wholly contemporary with himself, but always signified a variable complex of his current writing as well as the afterlife of earlier phases of his work. Lastly, there is an additional sense of ‘non-contemporaneity’ that is associated especially with Lukács’s one-time friend and ally Ernst Bloch, for whom being non-identical with one’s time implied a reserve of potentiality not yet realized, but latent within the inheritance of culture. With reference to László Lakner’s works based on Lukács’s books, I conclude with the possibility that the ‘non-contemporaneity’ of Lukács may yet have something to offer contemporary art and aesthetics.
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.
After 1956, thanks to the political thaw a modernization of the Hungarian canon of socialist realism took place. However, the modern and nationally oriented view of socialist culture was confronted with an ideologically motivated fear of nationalism and bourgeois revisionism, which also fueled official hostility towards the forces of popular naturalism and ‘decadent’ surrealism. Consequently, in the early 1960s a significant part of Hungarian art criticism was still dominated by the dated political aesthetics of Zhdanov that fiercely offended new realist tendencies, like the work of Tibor Csernus and his followers. One of their critics labeled the new realism of Csernus ‘surnaturalism,’ others supported their painting under the umbrella terminology of ‘magical realism.’ The paper investigates the different aesthetic ideologies and interpretations concerning such artists as László Lakner, László Gyémánt, György Korga, Gyula Konkoly, and Csernus himself. Beside the analysis of their avant-garde, ‘formalist’ sources, the paper also attempts to shed light on their realism, based on the classical figurative tradition of painting from Piero della Francesca to Edouard Manet. Beyond the more or less ironic use of the cold war imagery, this ‘traditionalism’ could even legitimate their ‘decadent’ formalism. However, their secret classic and modern references and their unique illusionism or a kind of magical socialist realism have never got the official stamp of approval.