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.
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 author studies multi-level links of Mandel´štam's intellectual prose with Herzen's tradition, starting from direct poet's assessments of Herzen's memoirs role for his spiritual formation. At the moment of the highest feeling of persecution the poet's thought applies to creator of “ free Russian word” dignity. The paper analyzes impact of the publicist's ideas on the evolution in Mandel´štam's disposition. Non-marked reminiscencies in poet-culturologist's silhouettes of philosophers, public men, poets and their epochs, clearly demonstrates original approach of his to tradition: modern art must creatively combine unveiling a human being in various branches of the humanistic literature of the past. In the spiritual life concept of democratic Russia, its opposition to bourgeois non-spirituality is clearly seen in the poetical core of links of lyrical prose of both poets, which allowed Mandel´štam to directly develop Herzen's metaphorical definitions of thought types spreading them over new intellectual spheres. Synthetic mentality of creative thought of two literary artists-philosophers is akin: reality tendencies, and art processes are realized by them not in single ideas but in developed metaphors, mobile rapprochement of various entity levels, retaining warmth of life itself.
Jean Clairs book “Die Verantwortung des Künstlers. Avantgarde zwischen Terror und Vernunft”, published in German language 1998, was immediately followed by numerous reactions, e.g. Peter Bürger, Werner Hofmann, Martin Warnke. As Nicos Hadjinicolaou however showed, Avantgarde and Modernism being blamed to be entangled with totalitarian regimes, started earlier. Jürgen Habermas, 1982, in “Die Kulturkritik der Neokonservativen in den USA und in der Bundesrepublik” also draw the attention to this kind of attitude towards Avantgarde. Following Clairs thesis it was not possible to talk about the “negative” sides of Avantgarde, because of the American policy in Europe after World War II, when Modern art became a political dogma. Only after the fall of communism it was possible to discuss this chapter of Avantgarde. The vehemence of these incriminations against Avantgarde and Modernism leads to questions about the intentions and the background: Is it possible that this debate newly confirms Habermas'thesis “technische Moderne ja, kulturelle Moderne nein”? Are we again confronted with a battle abstract versus figurative art? Platons remarks about painting in Republic 10, were often misused against abstract art, especially in the 20th century. Still hardly known is Ernst Cassirers highly differenciated essay within here, also the Hungarian contributions of the philo-sopher Mihály Polányi and Frigyes Karinthy.
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.
In the course of my research in archives – in search of documents about the history of the Art Foundation of the People’s Republic (from 1968 Art Fund) – while leafing through the sea of files in the National Archives of Hungary (MNL OL) year after year, I came across so-far unknown documents on the life and fate of Béla Kondor which had been overlooked by the special literature so far.
Some reflected the character of the period from summer of 1956 to spring 1957, more precisely to the opening of the Spring Exhibition. In that spring, after relieving Rákosi of his office, the HWP (Hungarian Workers’ Party, Hun. MDP) cared less for “providing guidance for the arts”, as they were preoccupied with other, more troublesome problems. In the winter/spring after the revolution started on 23 October and crushed on 4 November the echelon of the HSWP (Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, Hun. MSzMP) had not decided yet whether to strike a league with extreme leftist artistic groups or to pay heed to Memos Makris (Hun. Makrisz Agamemnon), the ministerial commissioner designing the reform of the artists’ association and organizing the Spring Exhibition and to leave the artists – so-far forced into the strait-jacket of socialist realism – alone. I found some documents which shed bright light on the narrow-mindedness of the dogmatic artistic policy trying to bend the artists toward its goals now with the whip, now with milk cake.
I start the series of recovered documents with a ministerial file dated summer 1956 on the decision to purchase Kondor’s diploma work (the Dózsa cycle). The next piece of good news is a record of the committee meeting in February 1957 awarding Kondor a Derkovits scholarship. This is followed by ministerial letters – mirrors of the new artistic policy – by a changed, truly partyist scholarship committee which apparently revel in lecturing talented Kondor who was not willing to give up his sovereignty, so his works were often refused to be bought on state funds for museums.
In addition to whip-lashing documents, I also present a few which offered some milk cake: a letter inviting him to a book illustrating competition called by the Petőfi Literary Museum and one commissioning him to make the sheets on the Heves county part of a “liberation album”.
Next, I put forth a group of illumining documents – long known but never published in details: the files revealing the story of the large panels designed for the walls of the “Uranium city” kindergarten in Pécs and those revealing the preparations for the exhibition in Fényes Adolf gallery in 1960 and the causes of the concurrent tensions – including texts on decisions to hinder the publication of Lajos Németh’s catalogue introduction.
The last group includes futile efforts by architects to get Kondor commissions for murals. They give information on three possible works. Another for Pécs again (this time with Tibor Csernus), for works for a “men’s hostel” and on the failure of the possibility. The other is about works for Kecskemét’s Aranyhomok Hotel, another failure. The third is about a glass window competition for a new modern hotel to be built in Salgótarján, to which Kondor was also invited, but the jury did not find his work satisfactory in spite of the fact that the officials representing the city’s “party and council” organs, and the powerful head of the county and town, the president of the county committee of the HSWP all were in favour of commissioning him.
Mind you, the architects’ efforts to provide the handful of modern artists with orders for “abstract” works caused headache for the masterminds of controlled art policy, too. On the one hand, they also tried to get rid of the rigidity of the ideologically dogmatic period in line with “who is not against us, is with us”, the motto spreading with political détente, and to give room to these genres qualified as “decoration”. On the other hand, they did not want to give up the figurative works of socialist contents, which the architects wanted to keep away from their modern buildings. A compromise was born: Cultural Affairs and the Art Fund remained supporters of figurative works, and the “decorative” modern murals, mosaics and sculptures were allowed inside the buildings at the cost of the builders.
Apart from architects, naturally there were other spokesmen in favour of Kondor (and Csernus and the rest of the shelved artists). In an essay in Új Irás in summer 1961 Lajos Németh simply branded it a waste to deprive Kondor of all channels except book illustration, while anonymous colleagues of the National Gallery guided an American curator to him who organized an exhibition of Kondor’s graphic works he had packed into his suitcase in the Museum of Modern Art in Miami.
From the early 1963 – as the rest of the explored documents reveal – better times began in Hungarian internal and cultural politics, hence in Béla Kondor’s life, too. The beginning is marked by a – still “exclusive” – exhibition he could hold in the Young Artists’ Studio in January, followed by a long propitiatory article urging for publicity for Kondor by a young journalist of Magyar Nemzet, Attila Kristóf. Then, in December Kondor became the Grand Prix winner of the second Graphic Biennial of Miskolc.
From then on, the documents are no longer about incomprehensible prohibitions or at time self-satisfying wickedness, but about exhibitions (the first in King Stephen Museum, Székesfehérvár), prizes (including the Munkácsy Prize in April 1965), purchases, the marvellous panel for the Grand Hotel on Margaret Island, the preparations for the Venice Biennale of 1968, the exhibition in Art Hall/Műcsarnok in 1970 and its success, and Kondor’s second Munkácsy Prize.
Finally, I chanced upon a group of startling and sofar wholly unknown notes which reveals that Béla Kondor was being among the nominees for the 1973 Kossuth Prize. News of his death on 12 December 1972, documents about the museum deposition of his posthumous works and the above group of files close the account of his life.
I wrote a detailed study to accompany the documents. My intention was not to explain them – as they speak for themselves – but to insert them in the life-story of Kondor, trying to find out which and how, to what extent contributed to the veering of his life-course and to possibilities of publicity for his works. I obviously included several further facts, partly in the main body of the text, and partly in footnotes. Without presenting them here, let me just pick one or two.
Events around the 1960 exhibition kindled the attention not only of the deputy minister of culture György Aczél, but also of the Ministry of the Interior: as Anikó B. Nagy dug out, they asked for an agent’s report on who Kondor was, what role he was playing among young writers, architects, artists, the circle around Vigilia and the intellectuals in general. Also: what role did human cowardice play in banning the panels for the Pécs kindergarten, and how wicked it was – with regulations cited – to ask back the advance money from an artist already hardly making a living with the termination of the Der ko vits scholarship. Again: what turn did modern Hungarian architecture undergo in the early sixties to dare and challenge the still prevalent culture political red tape? It was also a special experience to track down and describe the preparations for the Hungarian exhibition of the Venice Biennial of 1968 and to see how much caution and manoeuvring was needed even in those milder years to get permission for Béla Kondor (in the company of Tibor Vilt and Ignác Kokas) to feature in the pavilion. Finally, it was informative to follow the routes of Kondor’s estate as state acquisitions and museum deposits after his death which foiled his Kossuth Prize.
International Ambitions. ModernArt and Central Europe 1918–1968 . Praha: Artefactum a Ústav dějin umění AVČR, 2006; Slovenský mýtus . Exhibition Catalogue. Ed. by A. Hrabušický. Bratislava: Slovak National Gallery, 2006.
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Esref Armagan and perspective in tactile pictures
. Art beyond sight: Multimodal approaches to learning Conference, Metropolitan Museum and Museum of ModernArt, NY. October