»Szerviz,« »Klima« and »Out of Time«: these were the names of three exhibitions that were simultaneously on display this year in the Art Gallery in Budapest. If subjected to comparative examination, they provide an opportunity to describe specific discourses, exclusions and situations within the Budapest art scene.
If one uses the tried-and-true image of center and periphery, Hungary lies exactly between these two poles. The hype about constantly new peripheries has left blind spots that no longer appear exotic, but have also not proven to be interesting enough to take part in a common »interior.« But what is really interesting in different places at different times? The exhibition »Szerviz« (Service) presented a theme that already reached a high point in the Western art scene years ago – service-industry art. This term has an unpleasant aftertaste. In the mid-nineties, new bars, lounges and similar spaces, intended to save the art market and institutions from the danger of a decline into »hipness« by means of estheticism and a vague communications concept, were constantly being set up in a transfiguration of practices of institutional criticism. In Budapest, the conditions are different. Gradually, an art market seems to be developing around two or three galleries, something which has led to a boom in new approaches to painting. With »Szerviz,« curator Judit Angel on the one hand attempted to force a work concept that deviates from this; on the other, the appropriation of an economic (i.e. everyday) concept of production also points to a lack of public awareness regarding contemporary art.
Like »Klima,« the exhibition was organized by the Studio of Young Artists, an association to which a large proportion of Hungarian artists under thirty-five belongs. In the early nineties, the Studio began to replace the traditional annual exhibitions, which all the members always took part in, with curated exhibitions, where an application has to be made in order to participate. The projects in »Szerviz« were thus also entered as a reaction to the curatorial concept. Most of them referred to the art context; many overlapped with the other two exhibitions in order to mediate between them. Gábor Bakos, for example, commissioned a media-observation company to look for art-related words over a period of two months. The collected cuttings could be viewed in a dozen heavy ring binders; sitting on a red leather sofa, visitors could get an idea of the public discourse about art. The sociologist Èva Beatrix Bora also carried out field research, setting up a PC and asking the visitors to answer questions on their view of art and their social environment in order to find out more about the visitor structure in the art gallery. Three curators also took part in the exhibition, each of them inviting discussion of their job in a different way. Erzsébet Tatai organized a discussion group under the name »Art Criticism as a Service,« while Lívia Páldi invited two artists – quasi as a subcontractor – to present projects, thus bringing the only non-Hungarian works into the exhibition. Finally, Katalin Timár made herself available for consultations and guided tours, and provided information about the exhibiting artists. Information was, however, also available directly from the curators of the three exhibitions, for whom Sándor Bartha had set up a free telephone line. The project »Attendometer« by Marcell Esterházy, Gábor Kerekes, Krisztian Kristóf and Csaba Szentesi gave visual form to the permanent struggle for economies of attention. Using the Art Gallery\'s video surveillance system and software normally employed to monitor crowds of consumers, the different attention durations that the visitors devoted to the works in the exhibition were calculated and shown on a display, updated on a daily basis.
The project »Klimaszerviz« by Tibor Várnagy and Miklós Erhardt, realized in cooperation with the ecology group »Rügyecskék« and myself (I was respponsible for the furniture), represents changed forms of artistic practice. In the only room of the gallery that has windows as well as batten lighting, a space was set up for presentations and discussions. Here, in addition to talks, there were weekly discussions about globalization, climate change and social questions. It also provided a setting for debate on the events in New York and Washington. Videos from Seattle and Genoa and a continually extended wall with newspaper cuttings, photos and flyers contextualized themes that are otherwise completely missing in the Hungarian art scene. This was reinforced by the publication of two issues of a newspaper project making contemporary texts by Toni Negri, Slavoj Zizek and the Volxtheater Karawane available in Hungarian, as well as containing transcripts of discussions with the editors on various topics ranging from politics to art-related issues.
»Klima,« curated by Zsolt Petrányi, was intended – as its name indicates – to give a picture of the intellectual climate of recent Hungarian artistic production. This is an enterprise that, in its concentration on categories such as nationality and age, seems rather resigned. After all, it is precisely the contacts to scenes in other countries that need constant strengthening, owing to their rareness in the Budapest art scene. This lack of contact to international discourses is problematicized in various ways by the artists. Sometimes they also make efforts to disguise it (for strategic reasons?), for example by the excessive use of English text fragments and slogans as well as through a preoccupation with a global lifestyle that tends to deny local contexts – and, as a result, political references as well.
For the third exhibition, »Out of Time,« Christoph Tannert had selected seven Hungarian artists of some international repute, such as Róza El-Hassan and Emese Benczúr. The fact that a Western curator thus exhibited local artists in a location where their works are well-known anyway was problematic mainly because foreign artists were completely missing in all three exhibitions; and it is usual anyway for one exhibition after the other to celebrate an almost military line-up of »contemporary Hungarian artists.« This is a term that seems hard to overcome. That is especially the case with exhibitions abroad, in which Hungarian works are all too frequently presented within national categories. The exhibition »Zeit-Spiel – Junge Ungarische Kunst,« for example, which went on display in the Berlin ifa gallery in 1999, was motivated by two historical anniversaries: 1,000 years since Hungary was founded, and 10 years since the Wall came down. The combination is not without a certain logic; after all, Hungary was the first socialist nation to open its borders for East German refugees, thus making a considerable contribution to a weakening of the categories »East« and »West.«