Reimagining the near past and constructing local identities. A Fulbright project by Linnea West (2012-13)
After another email introduction courtesy of ACAX, I arranged to meet with conceptual artist Tibor Horváth at his studio in north Buda yesterday, December 5. Borsos Lőrinc had recommended I speak to him about his confrontational work during my studio visit with them, and I had seen Mgyar (above) at the acb Gallery booth at ArtMarket Budapest. When I arrived, I found Horváth and two other people unloading boxes of candles and taking them into the backyard of the residential house that functions as his studio. More on the candles later.
While the artist finished making arrangements, I learned that the house was lent by a collector for use as a studio to Horváth and a few other artists in exchange for artwork and house costs such as heating. Next door is the former studio of Imre Makovecz, the architect who originally began the MMA–the Hungarian Art Academy. It is still used as the meeting place of the MMA until the Vigado building in the city center is finished. Makovecz had a close relationship with Hungary’s conservative Fidesz prime minister Viktor Orbán, and his academy has grown powerful in the arts under the ultra-conservative leadership of his successor, Gyorgy Fekete. What a strange spot then, for an artist whose work is so outspoken in its social critique.
I enjoyed seeing the works in his studio, for instance, the his and her black and white Cokebooks, a riff on Macbooks but in granite and marble, with indentations on top for snorting cocaine rather than the apple logo. I also saw the model for his piece “Work makes you” (not “Work makes you free”) above the doorway. Horváth feels it is important to acknowledge that which is not spoken about openly in Hungarian society, specifically the Jewish question and the Holocaust. He references Auschwitz in Cultural Aid (2010) as well. Much of his work was packed up. So unfortunately, or fortunately, I couldn’t experience his Prime Minister in a box. This is a large box– the color a mixture of the colors of the Hungarian flag: red, white, and green– with a slit in the side. Inside is a life size replica of Orbán, wearing a suit and with hair, and apparently all his other parts from tip to toe. I was told it even feels like flesh. So perhaps I am glad I wasn’t able to stick my hand in the box and feel this creepy Orbán for myself.
Reviewing together the works on his computer, the huge variety and amount of work produced in the past few years was impressive. Working in many media with a stripped down, crude aesthetic, his work is conceptual, critical, and direct. I was especially interested in an element of constant production in Horváth’s approach. For one exhibition, Horváth created a new work of art every day for a month in a Liget gallery, and similarly every night he posts a socio-political drawing on Facebook. These drawings, typically featuring wordplay, often become the basis for larger works. Misspellings play into this purposefully crude style in his text works. Social issues such as poverty, discrimination, and struggles over nationalism are touched on. But each individual piece delivered only a part of that message, and many needed explanation for me, for example the drawings that involve text. Not only do they tend to be specific to the context of Hungary, but they are mostly in Hungarian. Overall, I came to see these small works as part of a whole, which is greater than the sum of its parts.
One project that Horvath works on with others is ENEMA – Nemzeti Művészetért Alapítvány (Foundation for National Art). This mock club has many activities, but lately they recognize recently closed or threatened art spaces with national cultural memorial services. They lit candles at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Dunaújváros as a memorial service because the institution might shut its doors next year. People could light the candles, as they do in remembrance at graves. Tonight I will go to see a similar memorial service that they give for the Kunsthalle. Recently a leadership change due to political reasons has a newly conservative focus, leading Horváth and many to consider it effectively non-functioning.