Foreword by the editor

Current issues in Hungarian contemporary art

How much do we know about the art of the former Eastern Bloc? What is available in English language about the practices of the region? Aside from specific conferences and workshops addressing the subject, is it possible to get a thorough and deep understanding of what is actually happening in the field of contemporary art in, for instance, Hungary?

Hungarian Contemporary is a journal of contemporary Hungarian art in English language, and it is aimed to enable the international audience to engage with art in Hungary. It often happens that language barriers prevent proper engagement with certain local context, therefore the purpose of this publication is to abolish these linguistic boundaries and give an insight through local eye but via an international language to Hungary’s complex, diverse and lively art scene.

This first volume presents five studies by selected art professionals, ranging from international, recognized experts to young voices in the art scene. All authors work in Hungary, and therefore have primary insight on what is going on. The volume addresses current issues in Hungarian contemporary art. Just what is it that matters for Hungarian artists these days, what is it that they are caught up with, what triggers them and why? Each author was asked to choose a theme that they think characterizes the present artistic practices.

Although most of the studies focus on artworks, the first text introduces the reader to the institutional structure of the Budapest art world. Hungary is a centralized country, so much of the activities of the contemporary art scene take place in Budapest. The text by Zsófia Danka provides guidelines, some kind of a ‘map’ for the reader to orientate themselves in the Hungarian art world. The diverse institutional structure has complex roles and it is good to know who to turn to if there is an intention to deepen one’s knowledge or if thinking of collaboration.

The second study introduces the reader to the concept of postcommunist iconology. Sándor Hornyik frames artistic initiatives that are references to the past and present consequences of communism within iconology, and argues that the artistic work with these old icons and the visual consequences of communism is a unique voice not only locally, but it is also an important chapter for the study of iconology in general.

Róza Tekla Szilágyi’s text about precarious conditions and contemporary art continues the proposition outlined by Hornyik, namely that socio-cultural conditions have always been visible in art. However, the Hungarian artists explored by Hornyik as well as those referred to by Szilágyi found a unique, local voice that is nonetheless comprehensible for an international audience. In her text, Szilágyi explores how the lifestyle, financial insecurity, project-based labour and the lack of a secure physical background puts the artist into the social class of the precariat. This inevitably defines not only the means how art is produced but also the issues that the artworks actually address.

Gerda Széplaky looks upon how post-feminism influences artistic practices in Hungary. It is again a unique position, as the communist past has influenced the development of feminism very differently in the region compared to Western Europe. Furthermore, because of the Kádár-regime, Hungarian feminism took yet another turn, and it differs significantly from feminist practices in other countries of the region.

Finally, the study written by Attila Sirbik takes the publication to yet another level. Sirbik practices the kind of art history in which the author does not create an analytical distance between himself and the artwork, but rather uses the text as a tool that takes the reader closer to art and facilitates an ‘other-than-cognitive’ engagement. The tone of Sirbik’s text corresponds perfectly with the art he writes about, addressing the question of the body and its organs as the only site of certainty, the sole place of security in times when everything else is subjected to superimposed structures and the working of the speculative mind.

Thus, throughout the texts we experience a journey that starts with the practical matters of what to see, where to go, and who does what in Hungary, which is followed by an exploration of the art inspired by the communist past and its consequences as well as its place in iconology. Then the current social and financial status of the artist and the consequences of living conditions on art production is explored, followed by the role of women artists, addressing a new tone of femininity characteristic of the 21st century. Finally, we arrive to the human condition inspired by the physical rawness of the body, that, regardless of languages and national boundaries, defines all of us as human beings.

Délia Vékony

2019, Budapest, Hungary