Csaba Nemes: Don't Try to Make it Logical

Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAK), Krakow
16 October 2015 - 28 March 2016
Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMSU), Rijeka
25 June – 19 July 2014

Curated by Maja and Reuben Fowkes

In his distinctive and wide-ranging critical art practice, Hungarian artist Csaba Nemes investigates the overlaps between personal and political history, the dark side of the nationalist psyche, and the fragile bonds of social solidarity. The exhibition Don’t Try to Make it Logical! at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rijeka surveys Nemes’s singular artistic achievement that deftly incorporates painting, drawing, film, animation, photography, as well as art activism.

The title of the exhibition derives from the ultimate Central European writer Franz Kafka, referring both to Nemes’s attraction to the outlandish psychological dramas of the socialist past and to the surreal political situation in contemporary Hungary, marked by increasingly Kafkaesque episodes, that also appear as motifs in his work. Switching his role from that of a flaneur of transition to an activist for artistic freedom and democracy, Nemes’s approach alternates between delivering a vibrant chronicle of the transformations in Hungarian society on the rocky road from decayed state socialism to failing liberal capitalism, to the taking of an impassioned position towards ideological distortions in contemporary Hungary and the prospects for a grassroots revival of democratic culture.

At the centre of the exhibition is the extensive cycle of paintings, Father’s Name: Csaba Nemes (2009-14), which are based on the reworking of a collection of archive photographs from the 1960s and 70s taken in the countryside by his father, whose name he shares. The artist questions these inherited images as documents of everyday life under socialism and explores the processing of the political past and integration of personal history into historical narratives. The exhibition also includes the series of drawings Utopia Ruin Pub (2011-13) that uncover the oppositional culture of Budapest’s famous outdoor bars, and a selection of posters such as Plebeian Art! (2013), that are presented alongside documentation of art world protests against the rightwing takeover of culture in Hungary. Nemes’s most recent output is contextualised with earlier works charting the chaotic urbanism of post-communist transition, such as the photographic series Stolen Facades (1992), while the pre-history of current political excesses are highlighted in the animated film Remake (2007) that deals with the dramatic events surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. The show also features works that delves into the subterranean imaginary of the historic city of Rijeka to make trans-historical connections, such as Che Guevara meets Horthy in Rijeka (2014).

Csaba Nemes was born in 1966 and lives and works in Budapest. He graduated from the Hungarian Art Academy in 1989, where he also defended his DLA in 2010. He is a lecturer at the Art Academy of the University of Pécs and is represented by Knoll Gallery Budapest/Vienna. Recent exhibitions include: History in Art (MOCAK, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Krakow, 2011); Let's Talk About Nationalism! Between Ideology and Identity, Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn (2010); and Loophole to Happiness, Muzeum Sztuki Lodz (2011). As a member of the group Free Artists, he has played a prominent role in artist-led protests against the rightwing takeover of culture in Hungary. He was the winner of the 2013 Leopold Bloom Prize organised at Ludwig Museum Budapest, as a result of which his solo exhibition is organised at MMSU Rijeka.

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