That seventies show: remembering Hungary’s forgotten neo-avantgarde movement
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In 1974, Hungarian artist and writer Tamás Szentjóby was arrested for participating in the Samizdat movement in Hungary. The following year he had to flee the then-communist Eastern European country for Geneva. ‘In 1972-73 there was a shock and the left, the communists, the hardliners came to power, so many of the artists, for example Tamás Szentjóby, had to leave,’ said Hungarian critic and art historian József Mélyi.
Although many of Hungary’s artists of the seventies lacked international recognition, the country’s neo-avant-garde movement is now experiencing a resurgence thanks to an exhibition curated by Mélyi, ‘Two-Way Movement’, on view in the Focus section at Austrian art fair Viennacontemporary. ‘There was a two-way movement from Hungary to the world, and from the western world to Hungary,’ explained Mélyi. Three galleries from Budapest — Kisterem, Vintage Gallery, and Budapest-based Acb Gallery — provided the works by more than two dozen Hungarian artists including Gábor Attalai, Ferenc Ficzek and Vera Molnar.
During the 1950s communist law deemed abstraction illegal in Hungary. ‘You can’t exhibit, you can’t sell,’ said Mélyi. The laws loosened up in the sixties, but because of the restrictions, artists gravitated towards performance, creating happenings, like Kálmán Szijártó did in the 1977 piece immortalised in a series of nine black-and-white photographs called Transformations, where he strips off a mask.
Artists like B István Gellér, who made the acrylic Particular Fruits III, and Ferenc Lantos — who created a graphic red, blue and beige 1970 polycolour diptych— embraced the dismantling of the laws in the mid-60s that prohibited abstraction. ‘They had their own world, so they built an avant-garde world to live,’ said Mélyi. ‘They had this inner circle of avant-garde artists. They had no public possibilities to show their work.’
The fair also showed a strong selection of works from the region and abroad, Dubai’s Carbon 12 exhibited works by Austrian artists Monika Grabuschnigg, Philip Mueller and Bernhard Buhmann. Vienna-based Galerie Nathalie Halgand displayed pieces by Austrian photographer Julian Mullan and Greek artist Yorgos Stamkopoulos, while Vienna’s Galerie Krinzinger hung a self=portrait by Marina Abramovic.