By Frank Koolen
On the delayed train from Bratislava. Flat countryside turns into hills. Sudden castles pop up. It’s sunny and the train is warm. People walk beside the tracks. Old industries, yellow leaved trees. I suitably listen to the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack of ‘Drive’ thanks to Brigitte. As a present I happily drown in ‘Long Long Slow Slow’ by A Key Is A Key thanks to Denis. I search his music collection and listen to Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed a Girl’ 20 times. I enjoy it a lot. What a song.
We arrive in sun-flooded Budapest. Taxi. Royal streets. Once beautiful buildings meet heavy traffic. Heaps of strangely ordered trash. Churches. The 19th century grandeur of the city still very much visible. The taxi stops at the hotel (free minibar? is this normal here?) and we leave almost immediately. Our first visit of the day. Vintage Gallery run by Attila Pöcze. Strangely alien like show by Szabo Dezsö. Photographs of model plains overtaken by electricity. Vintage Gallery also publishes a series of books on Hungarian photographers and of gallery artists such as Attalai Gábor and the enigmatic Dora Maurer. Her work was shown, among many other venues at the 12th Istanbul Biennial in 2011. Playful experiments and conceptual observations meet colour theory and educational/curatorial practices. Born in 1937 but with very young and contemporary spirit.
At Vintage Gallery we also meet with Barnabas Benscik. Director of ACAX, artists exchange program and the former director of the Ludwig Museum. Benscik being the reason why the Mondriaanfonds decided on visiting the eastern part of Europe. When Barnabas Benscik visited the Netherlands on the visitors program of the Mondriaanfonds a couple of years ago, it became apparent that few people really knew about the context of the Hungarian and Eastern European art world. After visits to China, Brazil and Mali there seemed a necessity of visiting the direct neighbours. Especially now the political situation is drastically changing the art landscape in a very short period. Benscik, as critical director, being fired at the state run Ludwig Museum as one of the results.
Some other facts among many: A board of 250 people with an average age of 70 years got appointed a life time and well paid job to overview and decide upon the total cultural sector. This organization called MMA openly runs an anti-intellectual agenda. Anti-Christian and anti-Hungarian statements or even slightly critical notes and voices are starting to be banned from public institutions. Censorship and short term policy being there main tools. Check http://nemma.noblogs.org/ for the efforts of the Hungarian art scene to come up with organized protests against these blurred echoes of historically proven mistakes.
Well, next stop. Ludwig Museum. Built along the Donau in a former industrial area. Built when there was no other building yet. Built as a multi-functional cultural palace of marble and if I my say so, bad taste. Built without knowing what kind of art would be shown there. Built to attract more investors for the region because that’s what art is sometimes used for. Creating some cultural context to attract money. But can you blame the museum? In front of the Museum a modern Tower of Babel.
In the museum: an overview from the Ludwig collection with some extra works from Hungarian contemporary artists such as a great work from Csákány István called ‘Ghost Keeping’. It was shown at the Documenta 13 and can be seen in a big solo-exhibition at the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht in January 2014. Rest of collection showed known, but always great, usual suspects as Warhol end Picasso in combination with works of Hungarian artists as Jiri David and St. Auby Tamas. In the basement a fantastic show by Amsterdam based photographer and conceptual artist Gábor Osz. The last exhibition from the program of Benscik.
The group splits up for meetings with different artists. Some visit the artists András Gálik and Bálint Havas who form the artist group Little Warsaw. Some visit Tibor Gáyor who works in various media. Ivo, Haco and me visit the studio of Adám Kokesch. The works of Kokesch are very well made constructions and compositions that sometimes resemble scientific devices and tools. By using many different kinds of materials found in DIY shops (but also things like Petri-dishes, or fixtures for a vacuum cleaner) and glossy paints he creates a new kind of alphabet. It’s an intuitive and free process creating unexpected logical objects. Some have sound, some have light, some should be attached to a window or somewhere hidden high against a wall. Kokesch plays with material space and light and does it in a very personal and intriguing way.
The end of the day. It’s still quite warm. Dinner at the hotel with many people we met today. I happen to sit next to Mrs. Dora Maurer. We talk. Sometimes in German, sometimes in English. Sometimes by throwing glasses on the floor. I wish I could have been in her art class. What a nice way to end this day. One day left on this crazy trip…