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A view on contemporary art in Budapest

The art platform G.ART Gallery continues the exploration of contemporary art in Eastern Europe. This time, the team at the platform travelled to Hungary. In June, one of the leading galleries in Budapest, Pintér Galéria, hosted the group show “Kiút” – Exit, which included talented pieces by famous and emerging Hungarian artists. Eva Szillery, cultural journalist, art manager and curator, was our gallery guide.

Pintér Galéria is located one block from the Danube promenade at 10 Falk Miksa Street, in a 5-floor building with a noble, rusticated front. Thick walls, heavy vaults and the rooms of Pintér Galéria, arranged at different levels, create a festive atmosphere – art from different eras, both old and modern, is shown and sold here. 

 

The year 2020 was a shock for the country’s cultural life. Due to the Covid-19 epidemic, all museums and galleries were closed, exhibitions were cancelled and artists lost the opportunity to show their work to the public. Eva Szillery and a colleague then came up with Standby, a project which didn’t need an indoor venue – an open-air exhibition of reproductions of works by contemporary Hungarian painters and photographers. It started at Kodály körönd and later moved to another urban location. The works on view displayed the lifelessness of yesterday’s bustling metropolises, the dissolution of human beings in nature and of course, people in masks, that tragicomic type of covid portrait. The Standby project resonated in Budapest; people who had never visited a contemporary art gallery were introduced to it in the streets.  

In 2022, it has become clear that the challenges facing civilised nations have become even more serious: the world is literally on the brink of nuclear catastrophe, innocent people are dying every day. How can art respond to these challenges? Can it offer a “way out”, and what might that “way out” be?

The exhibition project “Kiút” at Pintér Galéria brought together works by 24 artists (including Standby members): Ázbej Kristóf, József Baksai, Pál Breznay, Zsombor Barakonyi, Szilárd Cseke, drMáriás and others. The G.ART Gallery offered a wonderful opportunity to view the works of a couple of dozen Hungarian artists who explore modernity in a variety of ways and try to answer the question: what is an ordinary person to do when the world is shaken by catastrophes? Eva Szillery presented each artist’s paintings and the ideas behind them.

painting by Attila Kondor

Attila Kondor, one of Hungary’s leading artists of the 40-50 generation, a frequent participant in international exhibitions. His realistic works are meditative fantasies on the themes of Renaissance palaces and gardens, deserted architectural perspectives. They are undoubtedly human-made, except that the people themselves, the architects and the gardeners have disappeared, as if to say – I created beauty, and now I’m leaving. The mystical works of Attila Kondor, says Eva Szillery, best fit the theme and title of the exhibition.  

painting by László Fehér

László Fehér represents the older generation and has been directly involved in the development of contemporary art in Hungary. His surrealist works explore time and space, the existence of the individual in this physical continuum. The artist conveys human loneliness through desolate monochrome spaces in which small figures are sometimes completely lost. However, there is a certain irony in this, as man thus becomes the complete master of the world that surrounds him.       

painting by Pál Breznay

Pál Breznay is a Hungarian-French artist with a tendency towards post-impressionism. He is a master of light effects, has a keen sense of nature and is extremely partial to water in all its forms: swimming pools, rivers, lakes, seashores… In each work of Breznay it is as if there is a hidden reminder – what would the Earth be without the sun and water? A lifeless stone of ice.  

painting by Szabó Ábel

Szabó Ábel’s hyper-realistic cityscapes also lack human presence, as do the Attila Kondor parks. It seems like a couple of decades have passed since this town last heard human voices and car noise. What is this, spectacular post-apocalyptic fiction, or perhaps the artist’s vision of abandoned beautiful cities immersed in perpetual bluish-grey twilight and silence?  

painting by Incze Mózes

Incze Mózes, whom Eva Szillery describes as a very deep, complex artist, has had a successful career for almost half a century and created a recognisable handwriting. His signature style balances between surrealism and postmodern irony, his universe composed of fragments of reality joining (or disjoining) each other in a seemingly random fashion and odd characters like humanized apes. But behind the game of chance is the strict will of the creator-artist.

painting by Zsuzsanna Gesztelyi-Nagy

The painting of young artist Zsuzsanna Gesztelyi-Nagy is an element of geometry. She is fascinated by patterns (she weaves them with inspiration and out of almost everything), shapes and rhythms, she sees patterns in any object and can make even a nearly empty room in a panel building look dull and slightly crazy. 

painting by Szilárd Cseke

Szilárd Cseke, on the other hand, sees infinite rhythms and gravitational fields in nature. The forest on his canvases is transformed into ordered structures, which seem to be the work of physicists, not foresters. But for all the orderliness and rhythmic orderliness, the forest still remains a refuge for a tired city dweller, and the trunks flying up into the sky call for a dreamy look. 

painting by Ágnes Zászkaliczky

Finally, another artist introduced to Eva Szillery is Ágnes Zászkaliczky, a musician by training. Portraits dominate her oeuvre and can be roughly divided into two categories: pop art and psychological portraiture. In a way, an “exit” for Ágnes is an immersion into the depths of the human soul, where softly and quietly beautiful music sounds.    

There is a special professional interest for Eva Szillery in the Standby project, which was certainly a good idea during the pandemic, when artists, like everyone in Budapest, were confused and frightened, and in the exhibition Kiút, which was its logical continuation. To show that life and work go on, to give artists (often very buried people), the opportunity to speak out, to finally take another step in the development of contemporary Hungarian art. Despite its already venerable history, it is still in the process of formation and development, winning its audience day by day. And a dialogue of trust with this audience is very important.