JÚLIA N. MÉSZÁROS
HERE AND NEW
SHIFTS IN HUNGARIAN FINE ART SAFTER THE MILLENNIUM
The exhibition Here and Now. Fine Arts. presents the relevant phenomena, characteristic artworks and less well-known dimensions of the more traditional fields of Hungarian art from the brief period since the millennium. The show places Hungarian art in a broader relation than the art of the capital, extending its scope to a national context. It interprets the notion of progressivity on a broader scale than radically new artistic invention and expansion, focusing on the innovative gestures of the individual creative strategies that define the internal processes of fine art. It intends to provide an opportunity for the simultaneous perception of canonical and non-canonical artworks from a new perspective, for the recognition of probable new phenomena, for the gauging of their importance and their new relationship to the art of today.
Although in terms of their time and place of creation as well as diversity, the presented artworks cover the past ten years and the new phenomena in fine art, this exhibition cannot undertakemore than to offer a new perspective for the apperception of the fine divergences of this short period compared to the complex whole. The exhibition explores the special characteristics – e.g. individual creative methods, indirect intellectual performance, unique artistic thinking, approach and/or vision, exceptional treatment of specific subjects, extraordinary formal, technical,material features, technological innovation, divergent language patterns, new language or bilingualism, etc. – of new artworks thatmanifest new artistic strategies, fresh thoughts, innovative ideas and original critical reflections. It helps discover artworks that influence the momentary changes in contemporaneous Hungarian fine art, or that inherently possess a capacity for change. The detection, analysis and evaluation of the new phenomena of current fine art that differ fromprevious periodsmay lead to new interpretations that could complement and modify our overall image of contemporary Hungarian fine art, refine our thinking about today’s art and expand our aesthetic sensitivity.
It is not an easy task to grasp and describe in exact terms the essence of post-millennium Hungarian fine arts produced in over a decade and showcased now. If you nevertheless intend to do so, you have to freeze this arbitrarily confined stretch of time into a single moment, dissect it and painstakingly scrutinise each and every minute detail thereof. Moreover, you also have to take the risk of failing to identify a deeply stratified complex whole that radiates strikingly through the strata, which you assumed to find at the beginning when you started to magnify and screen its parts, and push time and the events to the background to reveal the underlying phenomena.
While the paradigmshift of the 80s in theWestmeant directly experiencing the social and power conditions and cultural logic of late capitalism, consequently the lack of comprehensive knowledge thereof could hardly have had profound influence on our neo-avantgarde art subsequently wedged between postmodern phenomena, the few years since 2000 has warped us into a radically newspace that also put today’s art on newbases.Whenwe joined the European integration processes and the world undergoing a global crisis, everything that had evaded us until the political transition due to the dissimilarity of social structures was around us at once. The events and their repercussions turned the euphoric sense of artistic freedomgained before the transition into a depressing experience in the blink of an eye. All that have lead to similar phenomena inHungarian arts as the deep structural crisis accompanying the globalisation ambitions of post-industrial capitalism and the general oversensitivity to the new power relations in other CEE countries due to the vacuumafter dispensing with socialism.
Freeing Hungarian arts from ideologies in the 80s lead to the fulfilment of the autonomy of arts, complete sovereignty of artists, a shift in approach, strong subjectivisation, evolution through the extremes of personal expression, humour and irony, and an eclectic use of formand heterogeneous use of language. Sovereignty also implied that new opportunities in the use of materials and techniques in art became key. As a consistent continuation of this process in the 90s, themain agenda of artists turned to deepening art aesthetically, and researching the direct expression of sensuality and the new potentials of self-reflective approaches. Diverse experimentation with art forms based on the use of new electronic, then later digital technical equipment and modern visual language brought about the rise of media arts, the spread of installations and the free movement of graphics between visual media.
The effect of cultural globalisation first showed in the art of younger generations whose chances to pursue their careers and present themselves in foreign galleries and artistic venues were immensely boosted by their profound knowledge of western trends.
Painting had retained its priority until the beginning of the 2000s, but it needed permanent innovations and to be receptive to the fecund effect of other genres and arts, ways of visuality outside arts, the images and themes of popular arts, the impact andmedia of the representation strategy ofmass culture, and the perpetual honing of technical professionalism. Its adaptability has proven more flexible than that of other genres. Free movement between genres and the multitude of associated innovations created, or gave rise to and perfected new intermediate and other art forms (e.g. painting installation, environment incorporating a painting, the spread of box art, relief paintings, painted textual art, artist’s books, etc.).
The artistic value patterns enriched by the combination of new application of tools, new forms and materials, the elements adapted from various genres and the integration thereof generated debates over genre vs. medium, and the latter emerged victorious. Thus all forms within the realmof the old genres in the 90s were called painting and all new art forms were calledmediumalbeit painting as a genre per se is the compound of specificmedia (landscape, genre-painting, period painting, portrait, tableau, etc. by theme; panel painting, mural, miniature, etc. by function; oil painting, secco, fresco, mosaic, etc. by technique). Examining painting only, you find that the genre categories of new art forms that emerged by way of shifts within the genre or the integration processes and combinations between painting and other genres had never been defined by their marks of content and form, but only the extent they as values fulfil the social demand for a general visual pattern – structure – associated with the painting genre. Consequently, any and all new types of imaging fall into the category of painting where the structuralmarks of painting prevail for the viewers, clients and artists alike. Artists, who label themselves painters, sculptors or graphic artists instead of fine artists verify the same. In other words, the painting genre today must embody the following new art forms: colour-relief, colour-body and colour-object or painting installation attached to walls, or image-object attached to walls or frames, and installations and space-works constructed from colour planes.
At the same time, sculpture underwent the same process as painting, but the change here was not noticeably radical. The traditional art forms using classical sculpting techniques, material processingmethods and conventional sculptingmaterials produced fewinnovations on form. The reason perhaps is that the hitherto unprecedentedmonumental orders formemorials fully booked the sculptors who had gained great expertise and recognition in public sculpture, and the clients who insisted to convention albeit longmeaninglessmotifs did not need innovations at all. Architectural sculpture and decorative sculpture almost completely disappeared, and were replaced by street furniture that also function as street sculptures and do not requiremore than routine processing. Aspirations to reformthe language, experiments with innovativematerial use, techniques and technologies appeared in the fields of small statue arts responding to the upsurge of gallery networks, exhibition venues, professional fairs, medal and plaque art, and objects.
Besides statue installations the new progressive included environments featuring one ormore sculptures, space construction, public art, the withheld and rather objectified formof land art, location specific art driven mainly indoors, waste sculptures using ephemeral sculpting materials (such as sand, soil, hay, grass, wires, construction material and debris, glass, textile) and integrating aspects of performing and media arts, or sound sculptures using electronic and digital means with statue- or object-like appearances. The end of the era witnessed the comeback of computer controlled pneumatically actuated mobiles.
In the field of drawing and graphics, process art and concept art used drypoint among the reproduction techniques, classic drawing techniques and photography besides individual prints, however, graphics created usingmixedmethods and providing rich variations, or the combination of photography, drawing, collage and aquarelle, and later xerox and computer graphics, graphic installations, and colour prints replacing B/Wprints prevailed. Access to offset facilities in print shops and the general availability of digital cameras brought about a series of progressive experiments with photography based graphic processes. Colour lithography used to be pinnacle of graphics before PCs and printers appeared, while performing and imaging works using office communication equipment – such as xerox and fax – followed by individual and mixed reproduction methods from the 90s combined with experiments in CGI were the most progressive innovations in form and language. Xerox, video and computer graphics meant the new art forms within the realm of graphics.
By the end of the 90s, signed and numbered single or limited copy computer graphics became tantamount to reproduced graphics, also concluding the series of professional debates on the primacy of individual graphics and reprography, and print.
This historic genre was afflicted by social transformation as much as sculpture was. Its infrastructural background either declined or did not even evolve (graphic workshops closed or privatised, the reduction of graphic art colonies to a minimum, the complete absence of artwork trading activities specialised in reprography). New exhibitions specialised in graphic techniques could not even take root, let alone develop into periodic professional events. The diminution of conventional graphics was also influenced by other forces such as the insensibility of art history education and Hungarian language technical literature publishing to contemporary graphic arts, the callousness of Hungarian art historians about graphic language and expression, and the impaired ability to respond to the fast changes of reproduction techniques. Computer use – including computer graphics, print, wall paper art – and the opportunity to occupy public spaces generated further new art forms: billboards, outdoor posters, sticker art.
Following universal discourses on art, themost exciting exhibitions in Hungary in the 90s focused on painting and the new media arts, and dealt with matters that became current in western arts. These exhibitions mainly featured brand new artworks created specifically for the occasion instead of the consistent works from oeuvres, because simultaneity became the key criterion for all innovations and progressivity. A paradox phenomenon pervades this whole period, i. e. while barely any Hungarian artists were invited to the most progressive international professional events, many more of them could attend international biennales and professional events that preferred artistic professionalism, richness of fantasy and creativity – three conventional criteria of artistic values –, and our medal and graphic artists gained high recognition.
Aspirations thatmay be labelled as conservatismhave increased fromthe first years of the newmillennium: they aimed to prioritise the exposure of subjectivity, the preservation ofmodernity as a positive tradition and the pure immanence of art. In addition, both the cultural policy of the new state and the tabula rasa desire of young artists refuse modernism, and intend to put art in a new social context. The resistance of the former was typified by the critical demolition, deconstruction and reassessment of traditions, return to nature and the truths of tradition that prompt new themes, new experiments in form and language, and an even higher level of perfectionism.
The associated artists considered the revival and rehumanisation of classical traditions in painting and sculpting their relevant mission, while rendering idealism, purity and order unattainable. They use the canonical works, image forms and styles as codes to form their hidden criticism of the present. They are concurrently distrustful of objectivity and subjectivity, the simultaneity of proximity and distance is a peculiar synthesis of intimacy and aloofness. The impulsive use of material as the language of expression is frequent, where form and paint follow their own logic and assume their inherent plasticity, the colours with their proportions, dynamic effects and tactile clumpiness per se can express an atmosphere or criticism, while it presents the peculiar blend of duality of intellectual and sensual immersion in the picturesque qualities hidden behind the mask of utmost simplicity.
In painting one can interpret the exclusion of depth by the blending of the original and the replica or other formal allusions, and the presence of time by the projection of narrative details symbolising various points in time into a common space, and their superposition without judgement. The new iconic signs of totality are superposed transparent layers or juxtaposed narrative elements, the approach to material use where the shape, surface, structure, perfection or sensual-plastic treatment of matter induce a profusion of associations and synaesthetic ideas about the entire age and the title theme. Its indicators are themutually relatable accumulation of the depicted phenomenon and the cited image, style and historical snapshot, the multiplication of the picture-in-picture experience.
The new symbolismalso serve the sense of completeness through thematerials, shades and objects suitable to describe everyday existence, the structures constructed fromthemas well as the signs, fragments of objects recalling the specific events of physical existence, details of reality created by painting techniques and capable of presenting the era.
The search for the new potentials in reflective forms of art is a new phenomenon in this period. The patterns formally independent of the period are typically recorded in currently general visual forms to develop this theme.
In preference to the patterns associatedwith the present, the topoi invoking the world ofmyths are often transposed to lifelike situations and included in the composition as the general formof some kind of absolute truth or ideal model of conduct. The extraordinary parallel between the values bearing lessons for this age and society and the associated archaic or symbolic forms presents the artists’ demand or desire for change indirectly.
Another atypical mechanism for concealing the restraint expressing uncertainty and the message conveying certainty in aesthetic and formal elements is to glorify beauty and blend it with the character of the age, be it in landscapes or portraits that communicate the temporal distance of the desired and the real even if the form is not construed as symbol.
The development of textual works is just another important phenomenon: works wish to highlight some displeasing fact, while it does not intend to force any action on us to remedy the flaw. It wants and rejects normative definitions at the same time, and shapes the work as a piece of work. It addresses either a general issue – such as capitalisation and the associated loss of conventional values, dehumanisation, etc. –, or calls the original function of art to account and focuses on the visual representation of the desire to return to such original function, in a specific manner, yet dissociated from age. The piece of writing presents the text in the real art form of the image like printed prayers for religious folks in historical times. The artist does not use techniques to intensify the impact value or edit the text, but rather matches the text in a sense with an imaging method attached to the social existence of primitive peoples and the formal contingency of popular and alternative arts. The sharp edges of the work are smoothed by the work’s transmutation into an image.
This kind of evolution and elevation of sensitivity into a new dimension emerged during themillenniumand has found its channels for expression in all areas of art by now. Its ironic forms are the combination of an undisguised and unclarified feeling, its intellectual aspects are that of the typical and non-aesthetic, while its critical forms are that of distrust and uncertainty, but nevertheless pointing towards some sort of integrated art where numerous levels and layers intersect. Body representation is also characterised by the synthesis of radical aesthetics and total reality, where the contrast of intense sensuality and reality perceived as ugly create a simultaneous feeling of attraction and repulsion, while the persona invoked by the body reinforces the legitimation of the cult of the body.
The experiments in form were enriched with genuine ideas by computer technology that enabled the creation of replicable and repeatable worlds both virtual and those reflecting reality together with the associated effects and the digital language, which offer encoding opportunities to present reactions to political situations and the changes of the cultural scene.
The content elements were deepened by the use of theoretical and historical sources as dictionaries and the works of art history as quotes collections, the discursive relations and reflections of putting transcultural globalisation processes in the national context. At the same time, general intelligibility was enhanced by the increased importance of visual communication.
All the attempts at the renewal of the profession and art forms in sculpture that had concentrated in small size art forms until the millennium, and now cover full figure sculpture and point beyond that, towards monumental sculpture. The sarcophagus incorporating the urn as a small garden sculpture is an entirely new art form bringing back stone coffins, the heritage of the early civilised form of the cult of the dead lost in the archaic past into contemporary art.
The rework of the ecology theme in Hungarian sculpture in the millennium created a similarly new form.
An example of the pursuit of totality to merge the potential and the substantial is the reconstruction of an imaginary world created by the fusion of everyday life and sci-fi that produces a high synthesis of realism and simulated historicism, after-image and imagination carrying on the poetic virtual, world creator initiative in sculpture that appeared in Hungarian sculpture at the end of the 90s (new form: playground with the imaginary children of the unearthly world, “realistic” Buddha statue shaped as the spirit of the historical landscape, spacesuit-clad astronaut in a posture typical of a home environment, etc.).
Newly emerged phenomena include, besides the diversification of themes, the distinguished attention to the essence of sculpture, and techne, thematter as well asmanual processing in conventional art forms.
All forms of postmodern geometric abstract sculpture and concept-driven constructive creation subside, and total abstraction remains characteristic only when combined with science.
Kitsch as a language of sculpting also declined in the last decade. Instead, the systematic restyling of sculpturalmatters with several new approaches emerge. Suchmatters include the question of impression – the boundary between sculpture and non-sculpture –, hovering, the formal consequences of redefining immanent concepts related to sculpture – space,mass,movement, weight, depiction of space, absence, instability, etc. – instead of gravitation, the nature-based transmutation of the collectively organic and geometric.
Or whatmakes a sculpture classic, and what is the difference between a classical statue and a nice object? Further important questions include how to integrate the incongruities of diverse material use in the final piece, the development of an internal systemfor language, the concept of time in figurative arts, how to put the duality of inside/outside and presentation/concealment into shape, the exposition and boundaries of the sculpture’s interior, the dissolution of the sacral and the metaphysical in the realist shape, positive/ negative as the opportunity for spiritual expression, etc.
Further features include the application of non-sculpture forms of visuality for the aesthetic sensitisation of form, body/object and surface, themore complex – i.e. not plastic – potentials of sculpture imagery (e.g. in the installation), or the extended space of sculpture as a new opportunity to contemplate the world around us.
Graphic arts witnessed the continuedmedial drain of conventional printing techniques, pattern creation and the fusion of previous art forms. The diverse efforts to turn the immediacy of spontaneous expression and personal experience into simulacra, and the quest for the properties of drawing techniques and graphic footprints acting as medium have appreciated. The catastrophic versions of postmodern plurality have diminished, and equivocal imaging forms built fromthemore complex perspective of the transmodern instead of spectacularly paraphrasing phenomena, forms andmotifs.