and sculptors not only move freely between the permanent and the ephemeral means ofexpression; they also like to co-operate with one another in multi-media performance. like the one in which BOrécz and Revesz plan to involve local Glasgow artists at Third Eye Studio Theatre.
HUNGARY’S REVOLVING DOOR
Ifyou happened to be in London in the Spring of 1980. you will probably have missed an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery called The Hungarian Avant Garde. Most people did. sadly - because it was quite an eye-opener.
Before it. who had even thought that there were any artists in Hungary? Olympic Gold Medallists. yes. Writers of Restaurant Guides. yes. Even some composers.like Liszt. Goldmark. Lehar. Kalman. Kodaly. Seiber. Ligeti and Bartok. And a few obscure musicians. with such knife-blade names as Szell. Cziffra. Fricsay. Szigeti. Solti. Starker. Kertesz. Kentner. Dorati. Ormandy. Anda. Foldes. Fischer. Vegh or Vargo. But artists?
The trouble is that. unless your own conquering heroes or politicians bring other countries‘ creations home on the back of their pack mules together with the rest of the loot. works of art don‘t move as easily from one country to another as musicians. and don‘t therefore become as familiar. Particularly if you didn‘t actually do much conquering in their part ofthe globe.
Colour is a major ingredient of most things Hungarian. and this is where we come back to the Hayward exhibition of 1980. The names were unknown and mostly unpronounceable. But these people had obviously discovered that Impressionism-and-after was what they had been waiting for. Fauvism. Cubism. Surrealism. Constructionism. Expressionism - you name it. there it all was. and with a spark you soon learned to distinguish as their own. Pre-war politics had played a part in keeping these artists unknown; they were mostly Radicals to a degree and the Fascist regime of the period disapproved of them strongly. So strongly. in fact. that any gallery that owned work of theirs kept quiet about it. Uitz. Czobel. Pm and all the others - many Hungarians themselves had never heard of them. No wonder then that we hadn‘t. Except for the few such as Marcel Breuer and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. with their Bauhaus and American connections. and Vasarely. who came from Pecs (like the Riesling) and is today claimed by the French as one oftheir own.
Such a galaxy ofgenius doesn‘t appear out of nowhere. naturally. There had been a veritable explosion of native talent during the nineteenth century. after some spectacular political shenanigans had largely lifted the dead hand of Habsburg rule from Hungary‘s back. Writers. composers. architects and painters revelled in the heady new atmosphere. There were too many to mention here. but among the most prominent one must count the great
Munkacsy. a genre-painter of Wilkie-esque quality. Szinyei Merse. a pioneer of plein-air. Rippl-Ronai. a powerful interpreter of post-impressionism and art-nouveau and the unique Csontvary. with a style somewhere between Gaugin and Douanier Rousseau! They formed a solid foundation on which to build.
And still today. the arts in Hungary seem to thrive. be they trad. or 9 mod. . applied. graphic or whatever. They do have the advantage of a very widely spread supply base. Hungary is still predominantly an agricultural country. and not even the thriving professional middle class is all that far removed from its village origins. As we have said. peasant art. folk art. ethnic art. call it what you will. remains a powerful force in creating visual awareness. The education system also may have something to do with that - there is a wealth of really beautiful childrens‘ books. And no parent blanches at being told ofjunior‘s artistic potential. (Not that they don‘t respect athletic prowess. I read somewhere that they‘ve won more gold medals at the Olympic Games relative to their population size than anybody else). In sport their standards may not be quite as high as in 1952 just now. but in the visual arts as well as in music. they go on producing champions. With individual enterprise now officially encouraged. the climate for artistic achievement must be very favourable. Not that oppression has ever really hindered the Hungarians! For much of their history. somebody has tried to keep them down. Turks.
Hapsburgs. Germans. Russians.
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none of them have been successful in the end. When you think that there are only about ten million Hungarians altogether. their sustained achievements become all the more remarkable.
In the West. these achievements have tended. rather defensively. I think. to be encapsulated in jokes like the one that became current in Britain after the 1956 inﬂux of Hungarian fugitives; ‘How can you tell someone is Hungarian without hearing him speak?‘ ‘If you go into a revolving door first. but he comes out in front ofyou. he‘s Hungarian.‘ And ofcourse the old gag from the post-Korda. post-Pascal era in the film industry; ‘It is no longer enough just to be a Hungarian.‘
The Scots should really take an extra-special interest in the Magyars. not only because of apparent parallels in their histories. such as life under dual monarchies. Or even their immortal football triumphs - the first Continentals ever to beat the English at Wembley! The Scottish Connection actually goes back much further than that. King Malcolm‘s saintly Queen Margaret. Edgar Actheling‘s sister. had spent her childhood as a refugee from the Norman Conquest at the court of the King of Hungary. who happened to be her grandfather. She was on her way back there after an ill-advised return to England. when a storm blew her ship into the Firth of Forth. . .and Scottish history. The Christian tenets she helped to establish here were clearly stamped ‘Made in Hungary.‘ Her Hungarian Chamberlain. lam told. later became the first Leslie. ofthat Clan.
The List 4— l 7 October 5