BUDAPEST — On September 13, I lightly followed the Sunday flow of the Gallery Weekend Budapest festival of Hungarian contemporary art. Granted, a flow far less desperate and depressing than the refuge flood surging through Budapest that week. This lesser and far more merry current, organized for the second time by the Association of Contemporary Galleries and Creative Platform Contemporary Art Foundation, transported me through unpretentious galleries that chiefly featured work by women artists.
In general, I found that the Budapest galleries are modest in scale, unassuming, and earnest in a way that validates significant contemporary art. Several works formally played with a dark, Romantic Goth style that recalls the work of Annette Messager. I saw little of the cynicism emblematic of a thick swath of New York and Paris art production. Instead, a general inward, cantankerous, and slightly surreal aesthetic is prevalent here. (There is a distinctive lack of performance video that I found merciful.)
I drew my focus on the three-gallery (Deák Erika, Inda, and Viltin) exhibition Beyond the Obvious, curated by Zita Sárvári. The show gathers the work of 22 women artists from across Central Eastern Europe who explore the current positions women artists assume in Hungary and the CEE region. Subjects range from personal narratives, collective history, relations to the body, archiving, and the everyday.
At Viltin, Petra Feriancova (from Bratislava, Slovakia) has a sprawling installation that brought back to mind the work of Eva Kotátkova, whose installations incorporate fragments of old printing machines from 1960s Czechoslovakia. I found Feriancova’s “Things That Happen, Things That Are Done” (2014) mixed media piece very intriguing in the way that its odd, veiled forms evoke hidden, perhaps broken, machine parts or possibly clunky forms from nature.
I found the array of works at Inda Gallery to be imbued with an ardent, feminine sensitivity that felt personal, expressive, symbiotic, and sometimes confrontational. Using classical media, the works explore attitudes to the body, religious beliefs, home, the past, and obsessions with the self. Typical of the painterly fruits to be had here is the pale figure/ground merger that happens in Moizer Zsuzsa’s shy oil painting “The space between us” (2014). This painting’s figure/ground fusion is quite opposite to the push/pull acrobotics happening in Andrea Tivadar’s breezy painting “Untitled 18” (2015) and in Ekaterina Shapiro-Obermair’s stark, mesmerizing Op painting “Them and Us” (2012), both at Deák Erika.
There is also a nice figure/ground (con)fusion at work in Budapest artist Mária Chilf’s peculiar “Family album” (2015) drawing-on-photo that, like Zsuzsa’s work, equally questions our place within the wilds of nature. The sculptor Ioana Nemes extended this thought with her quirky and compelling “Stove” (2009), a conceptual stove based on those in traditional Romanian houses where people cooked, dried clothes (or cheese), and slept during cold winters. The brown, wooden bowls came from an antique fair in Bucharest and two pieces of cheese are stamped with archaic motifs and then cast in bronze and gilded. The work asks us to consider ways in which humans have lived through the hardest aspects of the natural world.
Tarr Hajnalka presented the finest solo body of post-conceptual work. Her show Transitional Space at acb Gallery was outstanding for its elegant, formal, and theoretical threads. Hajnalka creates a system of relations and coordinates that call to mind both how we stitch ourselves together and the digital basis of today’s net environment. I like that her forms reminded me of Judy Rifka’s tough, formalist paintings on plywood from the late 1970s. But Hajnalka’s works are much more rhythmicly intricate, and I became lost in both my own thoughts and her artistic process.
Like Rifka, Hajnalka’s base medium is plywood, onto which she collages line structures, plotted and drawn using wire and fishing line. Several particularly robust pieces featured a background made by interlacing pages from the Concise Dictionary of the Hungarian Language. The complex gemoetric networks in these artworks suggest the impossibility of conceptually grasping the outside world. A few appeared to be like impenetrable abstract concrete poems laced with geometric overlays that seem to me to refer to the dynamics of the artistic process itself.
I did find a fine, lonely male solo show in the lady-heavy day with J. Nagy András’s fine square photography show Senki nem látta kétszer (No One Saw It Twice) at KnollGarlériaBudapest. Born in Hungary, the artist grew up in the South Bronx and South Brooklyn and subsequently lived in various cities on several continents, documenting the diverse environments in which he found himself, often populated with homeless people or drug addicts. Starting 2010, he captured scenes of the lives of those unwanted homeless residents of the streets of Budapest or other European cities, using a peephole perspective made with a hidden, self-made camera. His “The Anti-model” (2014) portrays something of the suspension of time.
Chimera-Project, by building its program on thematic exhibitions, generated a meaningful discourse around artistic and social topics. Its PostContemporary show was a rich, complex exploration of social surveillance and crowd control issues. This conceptual and graphics-heavy show was curated by László Beke, former director of the Research Institute for Art History at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) and of the Mücsarnok in Budapest. Through its founders, Patrick Urwyler, a Swiss art historian and curator, and Bogi Mittich, a Hungarian sociologist, Chimera-Project has a strong international and social orientation, and, according to the curator László Beke, “The PostContemporary is not simply a new art course, but rather a situation, a condition … [that] leans on the elements of the postmodern [while] dealing with the heritage of post-communism and post-socialism and neo-marxism.”
Art is witness to the constant exchanges occurring in our world, which include the transfer of capital, ideas, myths, and people, whose precondition to migrate inspires the enormous, worldwide migration of images. It is through this “migratory” reality — for better or worse — that art’s new stories intermingle and exchange.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that László Beke is the current director of the Mücsarnok in Budapest. Beke is no longer the director of this institution. This has been fixed.
Gallery Weekend Budapest took place September 12–13 at various locations throughout the city. Galleries featured in Gallery Weekend will continue to exhibit during regular business hours. Visit Gallery Weekend Budapest’s website for further information.