Reimagining the near past and constructing local identities. A Fulbright project by Linnea West (2012-13)
Gabor Gulyas, director of the Mucsarnok, was the curator of the What is Hungarian? exhibition held there August to October of 2012. As I’ve mentioned, What is Hungarian? (Mi a magyar?) attempted to bring together contemporary answers to this complex question in a large exhibition of 50-plus artists. The conception, selection of works, and presentation of the exhibition in Budapest was not without some controversy, perhaps unavoidably with such a contentious topic, perhaps not, to the point that one work was withdrawn from the show once the artists saw it in context.
I sent these interview questions to Gabor Gulyas, who had kindly agreed to an email interview, hoping he could provide some insight into how the show came about in particular and some of the larger questions that the show raises in general. As of this entry, I am still waiting to hear back.
The unanswered interview questions are below.
September 27, 2012
1) Why did you want to do a show on national identity, and how did the concept for it originally come about?
2) Could you speak about the process of selection? For example, did you have a particular artist or artworks that you knew you wanted to include from the outset?
3) What was the reaction of artists when you approached them about being in a show on national identity? How did you work with them in the selection of artwork, or, in the case of new work, what framework did you give them for completing new artwork for the show?
4) Societe Realiste withdrew their contribution after they saw it in the context of the exhibition. How did your collaboration with them begin, and what do you think about them removing their piece?
5) The exhibition begins with Hungary’s roots in folk culture and traditions, and continued from there onto topics such as Prejudices and Roles. What was the thematic or conceptual journey you hoped to take the viewer on?
6) Given the sensitivity of the topic, what were some of your main concerns when you planned how to represent such a wealth of perspectives?
7) You have 50+ artists as well as video interviews with many leading cultural and intellectual figures providing a plethora of viewpoints on this complex topic. What are some general trends that you think emerge? Is there any consensus to be found?
9) Are there any areas you wish you could have delved into more, either because you weren’t able to fully represent the body of work relating to it or because you find it particularly compelling?
10) In general how do you think the emerging generation of artists, coming of age now, relate to national identity in comparison with artists who experienced communism first hand?
11) In my understanding the political left and right wing is still a meaningful and strong distinction in Hungarian society today that can be used, or, rather, cannot be avoided when discussing national identity. Do you think this show suggests that statement is true or false?
12) Are there elements of the national character that transcend political ideology, or have all traits been coopted to some degree by a nuanced and complicated history of rhetoric and public dialogue?
13) Something that often occurs to me, especially now that I am here in Hungary, is how the language itself is very much a unique part of Hungarian identity. Do you think that the use of English text in contemporary works (e.g. Zsuzsi Csiszér, Lajos Csontó) suggests that Hungarian artists are making their work in an international rather than purely national context?
14) This is one of the first exhibitions you’ve curated at the Kunsthalle; is it significant to you that this was your topic? Does it suggest something about the curatorial direction you wish to take in this space?
15) This exhibition has received a fair amount of negative reactions. Do you think this is only to be expected given a topic as contentious as national identity, or were you surprised by the critical reaction?
Previous related posts: What is Hungarian? (Mi a magyar?) at the Kunsthalle, Budapest