NEW BOOKS IN HUNGARIAN

A Nyolcak. (The Eight. A Catalogue) Pécs, Janus Pannonius Múzeum, Modern Magyar Képtár. Katalógus. Szerk. Markója Csilla, Bardoly István. Pécs, Janus Pannonius Múzeum, 2010. 544 p., ill.

Around the turn of the 19th and 20th century, when modern Hungarian fine arts evolved, the group of artists called Nyolcak (“The Eight”) was the first to join consciously and directly the latest trends. The majority of the group’s young artists had already studied in Paris at Académie Julian or other schools near Matisse. Many of them exhibited with the French group “les Fauves” in the most modern shows of the period, and they were considered by many to be fauves themselves. The Eight – Róbert Berény, Dezső Czigány, Béla Czóbel, Károly Kernstok, Ödön Márffy, Dezső Orbán, Bertalan Pór and Lajos Tihanyi – became an independent arts group in Budapest. Their first exhibition, entitled Új Képek (“New Pictures”), was opened at the end of December 1909 in Könyves Kálmán Műintézet (Könyves Kálmán Institute of Art), where 32 works were presented to the public. The press coverage of the exhibition was extraordinary. The works of art and the related events captured the public’s interest. Not only artists and art critics, but also sociologists and philosophers took part in the debates, and actors, writers, poets and musicians performed as part of the events. In April 1911, at their second exhibition The Eight displayed considerably more works. The event hosted guest artists. Mária Lehel, Vilmos Fémes Beck and Márk Vedres enriched the ensemble of paintings and graphics with their sculptures, as did Anna Lesznai with her embroideries. This artists themselves thought of the exhibition as the culmination of their careers, as did the press and public opinion. In the third exhibition of 1912 only four of the original eight participated: Róbert Berény, Dezső Orbán, Bertalan Pór, Lajos Tihanyi and the sculptor Vilmos Fémes Beck as a guest. This was the last exhibition by The Eight in Hungary, though their works were still presented together at the San Francisco international exposition. This is the first time that an exhibition has presented the oeuvres of the members with a focus on the three Nyolcak art exhibitions between 1909 and 1912. In the monumental catalogue, which contains more than 500 illustrations, in addition to the detailed description of the oeuvre of each artist many studies present the circumstances and socio-cultural background of the formation of the group, its connections with progressive literary and musical movements of the period, and paintings aspiring to stabilize form.

A larger study treats the place of The Eight in the history of Hungarian modernism. The author redefines the places of the group in Hungarian art: “Their art is neither avant-garde, nor an aggregate or permutation of French or German influences; it is an integral, logical development of the domestic conditions, an art with precedent and – as seen in the Arcadian painting of the 20’s – a paradoxical continuation.”

Endre Prakfalvi – György Szücs: A szocreál Magyarországon (Socialist Realism in Hungary. Styles – Periods) Budapest, Corvina Kiadó, 2010. 168 p., ill. (Stílusok – korszakok) ISBN 978963 13 5948 0

The concept of socialist realism (“szocreál”), although its definition remains ambiguous today, is essentially a style or form of artistic creation based on the Marxist-Leninist notion of the obligation of political activism. The volume offers an accurate discussion of the period between 1948 and 1956, when socialist realism – following the soviet example – was enforced in Hungary by the supreme political governance. This totalitarian style, which expanded to every domain, to the slightest detail of everyday life, is surprisingly diverse in its parts, and shows a close relation with the preceding decades. The book demonstrates in a multi-faceted way the complex system of relations, which connects socialist realism from an architectural point of view to the Bauhaus, and from the aspect of other domains of the fine arts, to the so-called “new realism” of the 1930s and 1940s, in particular through the “Szocialista Képzőművészek Csoportja,” the Group of Socialist Artists founded in 1934. The main principles of post-war architectural reconstruction were at the beginning transplanted from the efforts of the organization of modern architects (called CIAM) formed in 1928, and although later “classicism” became the architectural tradition favoured by official circles, modernism and functionalism invariably permeated most of the buildings that followed the new style. It is not a mere coincidence that the most enduring creations in esthetical terms are to be found amid the works of architects. The older generation of architects was an interesting minority. Their professional careers began under the aegis of early 20th century Hungarian Art Nouveau and then, between the two wars, turned into neo-baroque and later modernism or new pop, later dissolving rather smoothly in the new expectations of socialist realism. In painting and sculpture, the older masters were able even in the works most faithful to the party spirit to include the marks of their Western European education, but the majority fabricated their works according to the newly required schematics. The topics of the art of the period were determined by the political expectations: primarily imitation without criticism of the Soviet example; the revaluation with no criticism whatsoever of points of interest of the historical past – named a progressive tradition – and its presentation, which was equivalent to the falsification of history, and the presentation of the everyday life of the worker, a falsification of what at the time was the present. The tome’s rich illustrations confirm that the art of this short period can only be interpreted in the larger context of interrelations, which present-day research designates as “ideological realism.”
 

Építészet a középkori Dél-Magyarországon (Architecture in medieval Southern Hungary. Studies) Szerk. Kollár Tibor. Budapest, Teleki László Alapítvány, 2010. 1078 p., ill. ISBN 978 963 7081 18 7

The studies in this volume present the art of the medieval Hungarian Kingdom in a complex interaction with territorial, regional, national, and religious diversity, connections and influences. They focus on the memories of the territory from Deva (Déva) in south-west Transylvania to Grabe in south-east Styria, which is, in the witty words of one of the authors, “a lot easier to define than to demarcate.” The majority of the topics relate to the material results of the excavations, field-work and building research of the last decades, but the authors interpret them in a larger context. Each memory fits in a boldly arching social historical background, which however is well grounded from a philological point of view; the interrelations range from Zadar (Zára) to Vienna and from Prague to Istanbul. The memories mostly pertain to the domain of ecclesiastical architecture. Accordingly, two studies look into Gothic monuments of Zagreb, from the Holy Virgin Cathedral to the St. Francis of Assisi Church, as well as into the Zagreb Cathedral as the centre of international Gothic. It is established that “the art historical phenomenon presumably behind the Zagreb sculptures is palpable in the southern, relative independence of the Parler style in Prague.” We get a more nuanced picture of the brick churches of Western Transdanubia in relation to the three ecclesiastic monuments of the Mura region, Bántornya, Domonkosfa and Nagytótlak. The novelistic 15th century history of the Ernuszt family provides the background for the tabernacle of Nedelice and Čakovec (Csáktornya). We read about the history of the building and the mural paintings of the St. Laurence Church in Požega (Pozsega), the cathedral of Sremska Mitrovica (Szávaszentdemeter) and its Byzantine-like fresco vestiges, the Pauline church of the Lackfi family near Csáktornya and its frescos showing unusual iconographic solutions, indicating a similarity to Vitale da Bologna’s and the work of his followers; the Franciscan church of Požega, the Dominican church of Čazma (Csázma) and the Medvednica (Medvevár) castle’s chapel. There are several studies on the St. George Monastery of Dubove (Dombó) and the early types of crypt, as well as the methods of church building in Gothic Hungary. The study on the Pauline convent at Dobra Kuca (Dobrakucsa) gives one a detailed view of Hungarian medieval Pauline convents from Márianosztra to Dédes and from Marianka (Máriavölgy) to Gönc.

A larger study treats the provostry church of Arad, the medieval churches near Şiria (Világos), Dienesmonostor, the churches of Tauţ (Feltót) and Déva, as well as the frescos of the Maróti family’s church in Vânători (Vadász), where an initial point of analysis was the crucifixion image over the western gate, which had been partially restored. The résumé on the castles of Trans-Drava was based on fieldwork that was by no means without danger, since sometimes the area under inspection was only accessible by going through fields that had been mined. The study dedicated to the Şoimoş (Solymos) castle represents the exploration of secular architecture. Although the title of the book refers to the Middle Ages in time and to architecture in subject, the interpretation of both terms is far from rigid. After all, the tome goes beyond its “boundaries,” not only in terms of the tabernacle of Požega of the early 16th century, but also the far-reaching destiny of the buildings. Their legacy is mentioned more than once in connection with the reconstruction of monuments executed in the latter half of the 19th century, such as Zagreb’s Cathedral or Solymos castle, or the dismantled Reformed church of Deva in the late 19th century. The architectural stone fragments, the elements, carvings, sculptures, gravestones and gravestone fragments or mural paintings are all an integral part of the history of the bulidings. At the end of several essays a precise catalogue of the stone fragments is given with analyses of the outstanding pieces. The studies were done on the basis of hundreds of high-quality drawings and coloured photos. Why the monuments in the southern part of the country – which at several important points challenge our knowledge to date – were only examined so recently, and interpreted and integrated into Hungarian art historiography with such difficulty is a complex question deserving further investigation. The breakthrough starting in 1984 is due to the medieval conferences, exhibitions and publications under the aegis of the Research Institute of Art History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the National Office for the Protection of Historic Monuments, as well as the great art exhibitions in the Hungarian National Gallery and at Pannon-halma. It is no exaggeration to say that the exhibitions and publications opened a world that has remained essentially unexplored. The book proves also that researchers of different nations, when they meet on the fertile soil of scientific disagreement and debate, can study without embarrassment the memories of these territories divided and reapportioned by political borders. For while the preservation and maintenance of cultural heritage may seem a national task, the demand for cultural heritage can materialize in the freedom of right to interpret.

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