As I enter the first room of the exhibition and I begin to read the introductory notes of the curators, I can hear a cat meowing in the background. The lady in the room looks around and asks me if I can hear the cat, too. Yes, I do, I answer. The thing is, we don’t have cats in our museum, the lady says, and goes on exploring where the sound comes from. The experience of the exhibition remains connected in my mind to the presence of an invisible cat of my unconscious.
The idea of the exhibition is explicitly linked to the dissolution of the Paris surrealist group: “The surrealist group in Paris dissolved itself fifty years ago. This major anniversary is a good opportunity to take stock of the tradition of surrealism in Hungarian visual art. How was this movement present in the artistic life of Hungary? What are those achievements that count as important even by international standards?” An essential point of the exhibition is therefore to highlight the connections between Hungarian surrealist artists and the Paris group – those artists for example who were visible from the point of view of André Breton.
Breton is even personified within the exhibition by an actor who speaks on behalf of Breton about his contacts with Hungarian artists.
Breton believed that major surrealist artists felt an urge to stay longer in Paris – this signalled for him probably the desire to be connected to the actual surrealist group activity. One of the objectives of the exhibition is to reaffirm these internationally well-known Hungarian artists as key figures for Hungarian surrealism. This may explain why painters like Simon Hantai, Judit Reigl, Endre Rozsda (figures of late surrealism, presented individually in Breton’s Surrealism and Painting) are exhibited with several works, marking the presence of abstract, postwar surrealism.
Authors like Endre Bálint, Béla Bán, Ervin Marton, Henri Nouveau (Neugeboren Henrik) who also came into contact directly with the Paris group, exhibiting their works at the International Surrealist Exhibition from 1947 all have individual works on display now in Szentendre.
Labyrinth-like spaces and corridors are also an important part of the concept. The route takes us through spaces dedicated to visual precursors of surrealism, and a corridor is dedicated also to Hungarian surrealist literature and its magazines.
Precursors like Csontváry (Riders on the Seashore) or Gulácsy (The Opium-eater’s Dream) are inserted into the logic of the exhibition through Breton’s legitimizing discourse – which is based, as the monologue uttered by the actor suggests, on the expertise of Árpád Mezei, who discussed with Breton the possibility to present these authors (and besides them, Lajos Vajda, of course) in Paris, for a French audience.
The exhibition can be seen also as a “best of” effort of Hungarian Surrealism. Works by Dezső Korniss shown here are among the most famous ones –
and in this context they can be seen as the works of a “Hungarian Miró”. Lili Ország, on the other hand, is exhibited also with well-known works that connect her most to Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Delvaux and René Magritte.
There are also surprises that the exhibition can offer – the range of the exhibited artists goes beyond the more and more established and circumscribed connection of the European School to the Paris surrealists. Nevertheless, even in the case of lesser known figures, the Paris connection is made clear. Among the surprises I acknowledged the presence of some visual artworks created by Imre Pán, better known for his theoretical texts about surrealism, and also for his experimental poetry.
The last room presents a great wall of Hungarian surrealists. The sensation of the viewer is that there are far more artworks that could be presented within this context – and there is no possibility to study them in detail at this time. It can also be seen as a visual echo of Breton’s studio wall recreated in the Centre Pompidou.
This is only an introduction into Hungarian surrealism, with keywords and key concepts that define the thematic rooms of the exhibition (like dreams, desire, hybrids, struggle etc.). With this exhibition however, the core of Hungarian surrealist visual art became much clearer than it has been before. There is more to be expected in this direction because another major surrealist exhibition is on the way in Budapest – which may show these visual worlds on display in Szentendre to be engaged once more in a dialogue with the mainstream of international Surrealism.
As I was taking the last steps within the space of the exhibition it turned out that the invisible meowing cat was actually real – the staff of the museum preparing in a collective effort to rescue it from an electric box. I hesitated for a minute whether I wanted to see it as a real presence of the exhibition, but finally I decided to leave with the memory of an invisible, surreal cat of my imagination.
(Hungarian Surrealism. 2019. 05. 25 – 09. 01. Ferenczy Museum, Szentendre. Chief curator: Gábor GULYÁS, curator: Dalma EGED)
Balázs Imre József