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Intentionally Contemporary: Expanded Horizons of the Hungarian Neo-Avant-Garde

By Maja and Reuben Fowkes
In Bookmarks: Revisiting Hungarian Art of the 1960s and 1970s, edited by Katalin Szekely (London: Koenig Books, 2019)


A black and white photograph of an open suitcase reveals a pile of roughly hewn stones, an Andy Warhol reproduction and a mirror reflecting outdoor surroundings. The similarly unlikely contents of an upturned mirror, a copy of the avant-garde journal MA with a Lajos Kassák geometric design on the cover, and an entry ticket for Documenta 5 adorned with a scattering of twigs is visible on another image. Both belong to the series Plan for a Memorial (1973) that was conceived by artist Károly Halász as a tribute to an inspirational trip to Germany undertaken the previous summer. The suitcases suggestively contained not only souvenirs from this transformative journey to the hearth of the contemporary artworld, but also references to homegrown traditions of international art. What is more, the twigs and rocks from the immediate environment place the baggage in a specific geography, acting as latent symbols of the burden of local conditions that the artist is obliged to carry with him. The suitcases disclose the reflexivity of artistic production and desire to be embedded in local art histories and contemporary art practice despite working in the restrictive conditions of actually existing socialism.