Contemporary painting –where are we standing now?

Szombathely Gallery 21 October -21 November

„The concept for this exhibition is to put together an inclusive overview of contemporary Hungarian painting. We give room to all kinds of styles, subjects and techniques: from traditional to modern tools, to a variety of approaches. This way we will make sure all inspirations and attitudes are represented and many different colours are shown.”

The above invitation was penned by the Association of Hungarian Fine and Applied Artists for the national exhibition of paintings with the title IMAGE-SPACE-HOUSE II. This is the second time for the Association, following the year 2014. This year it is the freshly renovated Szombahely Gallery to host the exhibition. The location is more than suitable for such purposes: it would be really hard to find a better gallery for the show, not only in the countryside but also in the capital of Budapest. The Szombathely venue has all the right spaces and the perfect infrastructure to host such an extraordinary and vast-volumed exhibition. Once upon a time the Association was regarded as a sort of an „elite” meeting place for the artists but the fact that it has now invited all memberes of the different associations to this truly huge enterprise (like the MMA – Hungarian Academy for Artists  or the Union of Hungarian Fine and Applied Artists, the Studio for Young Artists…) just goes to show that the Association is open to all, and is not a „Saloon” any longer.

However, no matter how large the gallery’s rooms are they are still not limitless and there were about 400 candidates eaager to show their work. So we still had to instill some criteria and a jury panel was created along with the members of the afore mentioned organizations. In the end we chose 180 pieces of artwork from 126 artists and we may say all of them represent equally high standards. The selection is truthfully representing the way we see the contemporary Hungarian painting spectrum. This is still not the entire spectrum because some distinct genres that are falling into specific scenes for certain criteria are not shown here. Some cathegories like sacred art, gallery-art, decorative art or marketing art were not part of this selection.

One would wonder if these works reflect some issues currently going on in our lives such as the post-covid or inter-covid situatuion, our concerns over migration or some explicit worries about climate change? Can we see a specific reaction from our artists to all relevant questions and concerns and problems riddling our society? The answer largely would be -generally speaking- a definite „no”, however surprising it may sound. At closer inspection we might discover some signs of these concerns, most of them on the emotional level. All of it probably just means that most of the artists are ready to create their artwork independently from the impact of current and recent events, uninfluenced by the suggestions of the outside world, meaning that their inner artistic creativity is powerful, free and very unique.

However, there are a few findings we could sum up when looking at the exhibited artwork and then look at the consequences. First and foremost of all it is easy to spot the huge variety of the materials used. It is a most distinctive feature and means that the artists have a very unique approach to the creative process and they are applying their own vision along the way. They are also establishing their very own codes and narratives which also means that there is no longer a shared system of symbols or tools for the artists while expressing their concepts. It also goes to show that their outlook on life is varied and individual and there is no shared style uniting the artists in a common artistic language. With a few exceptions the overall outlook on life is not very cheerful, but rather melancholic and gruesome at times. At the same time one may also observe that there are no extremes in the tools and means applied, meaning that it is important for the artists to find a common language with the public, in order to establish a functional relationship based on a shared understanding for  real contacts. There is an equal mix of the figurative and of the abstract elements and there is also a substential overlap between them, without resulting in conflicts. One may also notice a lack of the traditional genres such as landscapes, cityscapes, still lives, portraits or genre-sketches.

The exhibition also goes to show the individual nature of contemporary art. As such it is distinctly different from the past more or less hundred years of European art, the period that goes from after the end of the First World War. The re-interpretation of art has been in progress ever since meaning that the understanding of shared concepts of community displays a definite shift towards the individual. The relationship between the individual and the community has changed a lot and the subject matters have become ever more abstract. The range of the genres has also been transformed.

It must have been a huge task for the curator Urbán Ágnes to orgaanize an exhibition on such an immense variety of artpieces. But she definitely managed to pinpoint certain trends and correlations so she succeeded in creating a defining structure to the exhibition. The two major axes of definition are the urban mythology and the different pieces of abstract artwork, to be exhibited in the two large upstairs rooms. In the entrance hall and downstairs further artwork is exhibited which are not or not strictly related to the above mentioned trends. Please find below a description of some of the defining factors’ characteristics – based on the specific pieces of artwork –  and please also note that the list is far from complete and bears no judgment whatsoever. The first factors are mostly related to emotions or the subject itself whereas the second lot is more about the stylistic features.

  1. Urban scenarios, as the location of the humans’ alienation. (Opánszki Tamás: Espresso, Poets; Várady Róbert: Our different windows).
  2. Nostalgy for the past (Fehér László: Memories from Szolnok), reminiscing of nice moments (Nemes Zsuzsa: Undisturbed and idyllic; Góré Szabina: As if, Occasion)
  3. Demolition, debris (Jovián György: A study for demolition)
  4. Fear and threats (Sóváradi Valéria: I know it from somewhere, Something is on the cards; Brauer Ildikó: Just a sec)
  5. Flashing big city lights (Sebők Éva: Night lights I-III.)
  6. Loneliness (Fehér László: On the pebbles; Bács Emese: Nora shopping, Rails and Hills)
  7. Emptiness (László Dániel: My nude descending the stairs, Kálvin square)

Nature sometimes is depicted as an independent entity and a media (Nagy Otília: Malus domestica, Pine wood; Zöld Anikó: Atlantis; Holló István: Waves; Garamvölgyi Béla: Down from the hill, Wineyards and hills, Fog), but nature is not shown here in a separate manner. Other correlations have a priority.

  • There are many sub-classes among the abstract pieces. Some of the classification may be based on:
  • geometric (Darázs József: Magna Mater, Axises; Pataki Ferenc: Golden Sunday)
  • lyrical abstraction (Felházi Ágnes: Cage; Kharon’s boat; Kis Sándor Lajos: Steel; Sejben Lajos:  The river Tisza at Szeged)
  • archaism (Henn László András: Visiting (aliens); Kovács Johanna: A story from the past; Tamás Mária: Contact points)
  • lighting effects (Gábor István: Fading; Ásztai Csaba: No fate)
  • surrealistic (Luzsicza Árpád: My landscapes – at night; Mihályfi Mária: Timeline)
  • mystical abstraction, sacrality (Kovács Gombos Gábor: Dawn breaking, Morning dew; Lonovics László: Light on the horizon; Olescher Tamás: Harmony series
  • lines and fibres (Koscsó László: Neutralenias; Kovács Gombos Dávid: Dark air among the clouds)
  • textures (Dreher János: Chapel square; Gáll Ádám: Modulations A, B, C)
  • photo-realistic motives (Erdész Erika: Tower, Towers; Jónás Péter: Country object 1-2; Lenkey-Tóth Péter: White cushions, Grey zone)
  • paintings of gestures (Gábor Áron: Fragile balance – triptichon)
  • a joint representation of abstract and visual/figurative painting (Gáspárdy Tibor: Attic; Kalas Zsuzsa: A collection of Balaton colours; Krajcsovics Éva: Earth)
  • symbolic elements (Magyar Gábor: Gate (Tetra); Papp Nikolett: Remnants).

This short introduction of mine is not meant to depict a complete picture of the entire exhibition, it is merely a list of my impressions. One might also draw a very different system of classification, with just as many examples but I am satisfied that I can discribe how colourful and varied the show is. It is also important to note that it is not a complete representation of contemporary art although we can also discover some elements of the international trends. The definition „contemporary” has recently been the subject of complex ongoing professional discussions. What we see here may not be labelled as mainstream but rather an insight into today’s fresh trends and inspirations, a variety of individual approaches. This exhibition IMAGE-SPACE-HOUSE II. is a screenshot of the present day moment of contemporary Hungarian painting. Let me also add that the material exhibited here is certainly very much up to the international trends too.

Kostyál László PhD