Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hungary's huge 'contemporary art' show in Beijing called 'scandalous'

Hungarian art show at Chinese National Gallery Beijing (Xinhau/Zhao Bing)
"I went back today to look for a catalogue to read more about it [Hungarian show in Beijing] and I found out that there is no catalogue printed and no images or further descriptions I guess the show will definitely leave no trace....and it is better that way."
Alessandro Rolandi, Beijing 6 July 2011.

More political theatre than art, Hungary's largest show of art works in China quietly concluded 4 July in Beijing at the Chinese National Gallery, leaving little trace but causing huge controversy at home.
It opened 14 June as part of Sino-Hungarian cultural exchange, sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Culture and Hungarian Ministry of National Resources.
The Hungarian side appointed Norbert Toth, co-director of the Forras Gallery in Budapest, to curate the show, a virtual unknown among seasoned curators here.
The temporary exhibition displayed 303 works by 34 Hungarian artists and two architects in eight halls (2,400 square meters) at the Beijing National Gallery.
"Those representative artworks fully reflect the overall development of the contemporary art in Hungary and deliver comprehensive vision of the contemporary art for the first time," Chinese curator Fula Shi is quoted as saying at the official 20 June opening news conference, according to official English language Chinese online press.
Toth and Hungarian Ambassador to China, Sandor Kusai, also attended and spoke.
A dark time for Hungarian contemporary artists
"It's a scandal," an internationally recognized Budapest-based contemporary artist told me, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"It's all politics and even if the political point of view is a big mistake, these people [the 34 artists plus two architects] don't have the basic skills," the source told me during a recent Budapest interview.
A Budapest curator and renown authority on Hungarian contemporary art in a separate interview, speaking on condition of anonymity, called the show "kitsch."
"I have not seen this kind of marriage between art and politics in the last 20 years," the expert added, referring to the year-old regime of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, branded by many, including non-artists, as autocratic, whimsical and even "fascist."
Another contemporary artist and lecturer told me: "Things are out of control right now; these times are getting harsh and getting worse."
Is this the beginning in Hungary of the "Orban Art Circle"?
The Forras Gallery's stable dominates
Toth and his co-director at Forras, Dr. Peter Perenyl, devote most of their efforts to building what they call "company collections" since 2000, serving multi-nationals and Hungarian industry.
The pair of directors claim to take "undervalued" works and position them as investments for more than 36 companies they serve.
Forras lists 28 artists in its stable; 16 of these or 57 per cent showed in Beijing. 
That's 48 percent of all artists with works recently displayed at the Chinese National Gallery.

Hungarian "contemporary art" show in Beijing that closed 4 July 2011

Forras at its website described the Beijing exhibition as one of its own, although funded and sponsored by the Hungarian government.
The 34 Hungarian artists:
Bátorfi Andrea, Elekes Gyula, Fehér László, Ferencz S. Apor, Geréb Krisztina, Gyulai Líviusz, Györfi Sándor, Hauser Beáta, Incze Mózes, Jakobovits Miklós, Jankovics Marcell, Kelemen Károly, Kopacz Mária, Kós Károly Egyesülés, Kő Pál, Kubinyi Anna, Kuti Dénes, Lajta Gábor, Lustig Valentin, Makovecz Imre, Mara Kinga, Orosz István, Papageorgiu Andrea, Párkányi Raab Péter, Péterfy László, Raffay Dávid, Rádóczy Gyarmathy Gábor, Rényi Krisztina, Sánta Csaba, Somogyi Győző, Sulyok Gabriella, Szabó Ákos, Szervátiusz Tibor, and Tóth-Kovács József.
Hungarian architects Makovecz Imre and Kos Karoly Egykesules showed 16 architectural images, according to official Chinese press.
One of the artists, Andrea Batorfi, a photographer, is married to Dr. Laszlo Baan, general director of the Museum of Fine Arts Budapest.
The National Art Gallery of China will hold a huge Chinese contemporary exhibition at the Hungarian National Museum in August 2012.

Exclusive ArtTraveler Review by Alessandro Rolandi

"Often political correctness turns out to be the easiest way to shallowness."--Alessandro Rolandi

Alessandro Rolandi

" Visiting the current exhibition of Hungarian art at the China National Gallery gives a strange and familiar feeling.
"The same feeling more or less you have when visiting one of the typical exhibitions of the so-called Chinese modern art in the same venue. 
"I admit I don't know much about Hungarian art, almost nothing; yet I have heard the artistic scene is pretty lively over there. 
"This is not the impression we have when visiting the exhibition in Beijing. 
"The display of paintings, drawings and sculptures is a sort of pseudo academic "dusty," politically correct archive of works, mostly derivative and not challenging. 
"It is a survey of art as it happens with various modernist and few post-modernist influences that can only be interesting as documentation.
"But it has no concept, no displayed logic.
"Most works have limited visual and conceptual impact and apart from showing some technical skills (although not excellent), visiting the show is just like wandering around with no particular purpose, waiting to find something unexpected while thinking that it won't happen. 
"The more recent works seem to belong to artists not really engaged with contemporary issues and the old ones reflect the historical influences without really adding something new or different to the existing references.  
"I find it more and more difficult to discover some interest or importance in these kind of exhibitions because they are never confrontational, nothing historically meaningful or rich to have at least didactic value. 
"I'm sure Hungary has some interesting artists, but their works were not displayed in the Beijing MOCA, and if some of the artists exhibited have some interesting work, well it remained in Hungary. 
"After the flop of the German "Enlightenment" show, this Hungarian artists' group show follows up with the same attitude: to cheer and satisfy the necessity of the Chinese authorities to fill up their museums, hosting international exhibitions as a part of diplomatic and cultural exchange of just one kind: the politically correct, mild, conservative and not challenging sort. 
"There is no statement behind this kind of exhibition except the very convenient slogan that art is about art and we should enjoy this. 
"But if today' s art exhibitions and artworks are not testing the boundaries (in a subtle and intelligent way) or providing a different angle to previously discussed topics, or art movements, they end up just being tired diplomatic efforts to satisfy the "artistic needs" of China's most conservative cultural policy. 
"Just after the Hungarian exhibition, a big show of Chinese realist historical paintings just opened commemorating 90 years of the Communist Party. 
"Among dozens of highly celebrative and heroic, huge canvases, here and there sometimes a smaller painting appears, about war prisoners or poor peasants, revealing another side of the coin. 
"Something like this, something different among a strongly-directed ideological curatorial approach makes the show worth visiting.
"Often political correctness turns out to be the easiest way to shallowness"

Alessandro Rolandi, age 40, is artist in residence at Harrow International School, Beijing since 2003, teaching art and experimental theatre. He has taught or lectured in eight schools, including Institut d´Edudes de Paris
He is also a film maker, actor, theatre director, performance artist and author. Rolandi, born in Pavia, Italy, has staged 12 solo exhibitions and participated in 24 group shows. He is ArtTraveler's contributing artist and writer in Beijing.

Rolandi's mission:

"I observe, borrow, change and document reality to create possibilities that challenge our current socio-political structures and point out the effects they have on our daily life and on our scheme of thought."

Rock on and practice peace and love.
Stefan, the ArtTraveler™


After more than two weeks living at the 3.5-star Hotel Queen Mary in the center of Budapest's 7th District (Jewish Quarter), I heartily recommend it: old on the outside, otherwise totally modern; it's an extremely excellent value. (I'm not getting a discount for's my idea because it is what it is.)

The owner and staff are affable and speak English and German. Tel: 0036-1-413-3510;;

There's a generous buffet breakfast that comes with the room, and everything in Budapest is close to you.

"Folytatas?" Photograph by Stefan van Drake, Budapest (2011)
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1 comment:

  1. Interesting that this kind of show can happen in what we perceive as contemporary culture.