Missing links

Hungarian artists abroad


(ring-a-ring o’roses … a-tishoo, a-tishoo … let him go … mo!)

Art is also arranged into formations that can be perceived at the social level by specialists and institutes – institutes on the border of perceptibility. An infrathin structure. It would be nice to be able to dissect out the word „thin” and the space after it from the previous sentence.

Missing links. Let’s start at the end.

One of the primary problems is the lack of qualified specialists. Traditionally art historians are regarded as such specialists, normally they are appointed to fill the leading positions of the most important institutes. At the same time contemporary fine arts are not included in art history studies, not even at a more advanced level. „Contemporary arts are not included in the research fields of art history”, as it was put down in writing recently by one of the prominent personalities in the profession. Well, this may be right. So whose research field is it actually? Research? Here we come against the first gap: curators are needed in higher education (and in the Parliament)!

We are seriously lacking an institute similar to the DCA (Danish Contemporary Art Foundation), which would be responsible for the international relationships of Hungarian fine arts. In connection with this, the other sad fact is that the most significant international exhibitions take place without the participation of Hungarian artists. Here is a list of a few more significant exhibitions: Documenta (the eleventh exhibition will be organised next year), Berlin Biennale (the second will take place this year), Biennale di Venezia (forty-ninth), Biennale de Lyon (last year the fifth exhibition was organised), Biennale of Sydney (the eleventh last year), Carnegie International (the seventh took place in its new form), Istanbul Biennial (the seventh will be organised his year), Liverpool Biennial (the second will take place next year), Melbourne International Biennial (the second), Săo Paulo Bienal (the twenty-fifth next year?), Site Santa Fe (the fourth exhibition this year), Kwangju Biennial (they organised the third one last year), Johannesburg Biennial (after two exhibitions it was stopped by the authorities), Manifesta (the nomad biannual, the fourth will be organised next year).

From some countries there are as many as 10-15 participants at a time. However, Hungary’s statistics are not like this at all.
It only happened once that there was a Hungarian participant at Documenta*, when János Sugár took part in the ninth exhibition. No Hungarians have ever participated in the Berlin Biannual. Thank God, there is a Hungarian pavilion in Venice, so there are a few Hungarian participants each time. The question is when will one of them be invited to the central exhibition at last, which would represent a real challenge. Then the next question is when will a Hungarian artist be awarded a prize in Venice. I don`t ask more questions about this for now. No Hungarians have participated in Lyon, unless we mention George Legrady who has been living in America ever since he was a child. Orshi Drozdik went to Sydney once (it is no accident that she spells her name like this, as she spends more time in New York than Budapest). Carnegie International: no Hungarian participants ever. Three Hungarian artists have been to Istanbul: Csaba Nemes, Antal Lakner and Balázs Beöthy. Liverpool: nobody. Melbourne: nobody. Sao Paulo is the most promising after Venice: János Sugár, Orshi Drozdik, Imre Bukta, Attila Csörgő, Csaba Nemes, Róza El-Hassan, Péter Forgács. Site Santa Fe: Imre Bukta. Kwangju: Róza El-Hassan. Johannesburg: Károly Elekes (after that the biannual was banned by the local authorities, and according to the news it was not because the Hungarian participant was robbed in the street in daylight. This is what the atmosphere is like in Johannesburg). Manifesta, the European biannual started very well from the aspect of Hungarian artists, as one of its very first curators was Katalin Néray, and due to this two Hungarian artists, Róza El-Hassan and János Sugár were able to take part in the exhibition. The second one was also successful, when the curators discovered Emese Benczúr. But then the third one turned out to be a scandal: although at the opening ceremony of Manifesta 2 in Luxembourg it was officially announced that Manifesta 3 would take place in Budapest, no one really undertook the organising here. Time went by and it suddenly turned out that Budapest had been replaced by Ljubijana. At the same time Hungarian artists were also replaced by other artists, which meant that apart from Finland only Hungary was not represented by anybody. If we want to remain subtle, we can call it another missed opportunity.

If we add it all up, it comes up to 72 missed opportunities altogether (Drozdik, Csörgő and Bukta went to Sao Paulo in the same year, so they only count as one**).

In fact, in the last century two Hungarian artists gained recognition in world-wide art history: Moholy-Nagy and Vasarely, one of them was supported by the infrastructure of Berlin while the other by the infrastructure of Paris.

Recognition or gratitude is missing from here – I thought in connection with the above. I also remembered that with the exception of Venice and the Manifesta all the opportunities that were not missed were due to the same person. This person is Suzy Mészöly, who came here from Australia at the end of the eighties. She arrived with the east wind, like Mary Poppins, and left with the west wind. It did not take long for her to realise what serious deficiencies we have in the field of international relations. She attuned herself to the process of the events and soon she determined the pace. Her style and ways were often criticised, but no one can question her efficiency. She was a consultant in Istanbul and Santa Fe. She was the first and, so far, the only national commissioner of the Sao Paulo Biennale. She also raised the financial background for the participants. She gave a new meaning to the word “curator”.

It cannot really be said that the participation of Sugár at the Documenta was due to her, although they were husband and wife at that time, but the situation was different then. The winning idea was when the Műcsarnok invited Jan Hoet, the actual Documenta trustee to be a member of the jury at the international small sculpture exhibition, and he picked the artist who won first prize. Or rather, he picked the work of art and not the artist, but that is another story.

Ring-a-ring o” roses, a pocket full of poses Let us fill one of the gaps now. This one first. As if we were saying an incantation. Thanks Suzy. Thank you Suzy.

And then another gap can be filled. Eeny meeny miny. Click.

* we have to mention here the participation of L. Révész, A. Böröcz and J. Szirtes in Documenta 8`s performance section.

** also organised by Suzy