István Mácsai, who was born a hundred years ago, had an extensive oeuvre rich in artworks and extensive in terms of both genre and time, spanning a long period that finished in 2005 – since then his name has been surrounded by a kind of perplexity despite occasional waves of attention from time to time. The reception Mácsai gained was controversial and divided from the beginning. Regularly shown in solo and group exhibitions since the early 1950s, present in the professional public sphere, and highly regarded in public sales and the art trade, the painter not just dropped out of the professional canon (both the contemporaneous and subsequently constructed canons), but was virtually absent from it.
The professional debates that have repeatedly flared up in connection with his paintings suggest that his hidden career, which spanned from the 1950s to the 2000s, awaits a clear overview and summary. The time for a thorough reading and a critical approach, we believe, has come. Although Mácsai was averse to theoretical views of his paintings from beyond the pictorial practice, his oeuvre has been dealt with in an art-historical and curatorial aspect, with the contribution of his successors. István Mácsai was not only a painter, but also a notable amateur filmmaker and photographer. The thousands of photographs that survive in his estate, the dozens of eight-millimetre film sequences, together with the bundles of diaries written with varying intensity over his life are not simply research points, but open up new passages, both in his oeuvre and in our knowledge of the era. The visual and written forms are the overlapping imprints of autonomous representations, the texts of a manic gaze.
The title of our exhibition refers in part to the oeuvre we intend to shift from invisibility to centre stage, and in part to the walls actually shifting in the Templespace. The installation, designed by Botond Devich, moves to a beat and rhymes the works and documents in polyphonic shapes through changing formations of meeting, approaching and moving away. Themes of the city and modernity with traditional role stylisations and motifs of disenchantment and the lack of professional resonance with commercial art success are arranged in shifting ensembles in multiple interpretative webs. In configurations that converge and then diverge, former criticism is juxtaposed with works that have since been shown in a different light, and the personal contours of the nude series and the models are superimposed onto each other in paintings, photographs and films. The wall shifts dramatise the cross-referential threads and also provide an opportunity to speak from multiple perspectives about the chronic flux of the painter’s self-image that runs through the oeuvre, not only in the repetitive threads of the diaries, but also in the series of hidden self-portraits.
Rather than a purely qualitative, canonical approach focusing on major works, we have attempted a multi-faceted presentation of the oeuvre. Our intention is not to judge, but to interpret and provide reference points – to build parallel narratives and contexts and make them seen.