Conceptual Art in Hungary

Paksi Képtár, 28 March – 8 June 2014

Opening: 27 March, 2014. Kaos Camping


“The recent thirty or forty years of Hungarian art’s history is a rather maltreated territory from a historic-scientific aspect. Except for a few fragments from otherwise unpublished texts and the quite well-documented material on the arts and artists that could be regarded as being official, there is not much more to be said of. The artists and work of the Hungarian Avant-garde has run parallelly with and up to the standards of the international art community both in respect to matter as well as quality, however, the Hungarian cultural community, except for a few experts, remain unaware of its nature or history. This can be observed by the data from surveys carried out in the spheres of higher education, television and other public fields, yet one might also observe that its obvious absence becomes more and more a conscious and real one. From this perspective, the present study might as well be termed gap-filling, its major objective being the discussion of concept art from the sixties and continuing into the early eighties, with a particular concentration on its influence and manifestation within Hungarian art.”


Excerpt of the original text:

“This period from a social perspective represented a stiff and hostile social and artistic context that had serious shortages of information concerning both the topic of this study and the ambitions of the Avant-Garde in general. It seems to be important to point out that although there was a resistance against the Avant-garde in general, and beyond that also against the special manifestations of Concept Art. (…) Social resistance was partly due to the absence of information and partly political considerations; its manifestations were as follows:

The movement of the Avant-Garde, deriving from its originally marginal position, had the ambition to concentrate these endeavors onto a narrow scale or even on one – well-controllable – place so that they would have a chance neither in time nor in space for expansion. In relation to this it is understandable why there was an antagonism and a consciously set-up opposition between the Avant-Garde and the mass media. The more important the role of the mass media the more it becomes the vehicle of a particular mass culture whose main mission is to repress essential information by means of an abundance of information. Thus, by mass culture (in a strict, and for the sake of brevity, in a simplified sense) I mean the systematic deprivation of the masses from significant information (one that concerns them in their whole existence) in a way that a huge amount of information is presented as if it was real and credible.

A more obvious and direct means of repression is the joint and complex use of bureaucratic systems of orders and paragraphs, taking advantage of all their myriad features (regulating the Fine Art Academy Department codes from fire and security prevention through janitors). Stepping beyond these we are confronted with direct reprisals – emphasizing the significance in which the following list is ordered – against events, things and then individuals. It can manifest itself in refusing permissions, closing down exhibitions, as well as excluding certain pieces or artists from participation, imposing a penalty, starting a legal process or destroying the work. The final (most radical) forms are personal attacks ranging from harassment by the police through making somebody ridiculous in front of the public and legal procedures to notices advising them to leave the country. An indirect (longer, but more “successful”) method is to cause permanent existential problems for prominent artists and thus encourage them to show a “better understanding”. The natural context of information shortage, which is one of the consequences of having taken action, has a major role in reprisals: the authorities very often have no idea who or what they are supposed to take action on; according to the tradition of several decades, they react against the disturbing, “exciting” or “incomprehensible” presence of the artpieces (artists) following their own lines. Thus not only the “foreign” artpieces are behind time but the development of the Hungarian art scene is also “late”, and in a public evaluation (as if hiding a feeling of inferiority) it is claimed that what does not yet exist must be something that has been over already and what is about to be born has actually been well-known “for a long time”; this inhibited position induces an unuttered general agreement that leaves the evaluation (judgment) of things for “time”, “posterity” or the “historical perspective”.

Here I arrive at the third level of approach, where I promised the description concerning the problems of presentation as well as those of the present situation. Above all, between 1970-76 there were at least fifty actions (exhibitions, publications, thematic collections) that were connected to Conceptual Art and involved 6-8 (but often 20-25) artists. Several people participated in these without any background in creating expressly artistic work either in the past (beforehand) or the future (afterwards). Simultaneously, an intensive mail-art activity is characteristic within this period, which had started earlier than Concept, but (at least in Hungary) its role was crucial since a Concept artpiece can be written down, sent by mail, etc.. Resulting from its special formal features, one must take into consideration its inherently different public (one that is based on a personal and direct contact) which cannot be disregarded simply because traditionally a “valid” artpiece is one that in its time was publicly exposed or somehow published. Nor can it be disregarded by its quantity (which is almost “incomprehensibly” big), yet quite naturally in the information-exchange personal messages are dominant, yet even disregarding this the number of remaining Concept pieces is still large.

The representatives of official culture as well as the majority of various institutions now justly feel (and not only concerning Concept Art) that the seventies “slipped out of their hands” and they may even start to regret this. When considering the sometimes involuntary omissions it must be noticed that the act of collecting material or the occasional as well as systematic documentation was carried out by people who were directly involved in the ongoing events and that sometimes it was the artists themselves who did their own self-documentation instead of the “qualified” institution.

As a consequent result of this, the present study cannot attempt at being historically complete.”