Little-known history of the Hungarian avant-garde in the 1960s and ’70s will come in for new focus next month at Elizabeth Dee Gallery in New York. Opening May 2 and running through until August 12, “With the Eyes of Others: Hungarian Artists of the Sixties and Seventies” will feature more than 100 works by 30 artists in what organizers are calling the first show of such scale in the United States to survey art made in the oppressive authoritarian atmosphere of communist-era Hungary.
“If you were paying very close attention, which most people wouldn’t have been, these Hungarian artists have been beginning to be more noticed in recent years,” said András Szántó, the Hungarian-born, New York-based guest curator of the show. “I wouldn’t say it’s esoteric, but you need to have peripheral vision to have noticed.”
Recent interest in Dóra Maurer, who appeared in the 2015–2016 Museum of Modern Art exhibition “Transmissions: Art in Eastern Europe and Latin America, 1960–1980” served as one of the show’s key points of inspiration, Szántó said, while also noting the timely emergence of others including Katalin Ladik, who will figure in the upcoming Documenta 14.
“It’s always fascinating to see evidence of parallel avant-garde histories that we weren’t aware of,” Szántó told ARTnews, “and particularly an avant-garde scene that thrived behind the Iron Curtain. The art world today has been moving toward a more multi-pronged rendition of modernism, so it’s exciting to be able to inscribe a Hungarian strain of that.”
Elizabeth Dee said her interest in the subject stemmed from seeing Maurer’s work in the MoMA show and its resonances with her long-running engagement with radical painting—as well as other modes explored by artists in Budapest and elsewhere in Hungary. “I was impressed by the interdisciplinary nature of how these artists were working and how radical it was given the political oppression they were living under,” Dee said, noting another momentous event in the annals of Hungarian art in America: the László Moholy-Nagy retrospective “Moholy-Nagy: Future Present” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York last year (and on view now at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through June 18).
As a curator invested in Hungarian history after leaving his homeland for New York in 1989, Szántó said he is driven to shine a spotlight on artists whose work has not yet found due attention. “There are artists who were working in obscurity even in Budapest, with no access to a market and often quite marginalized,” he said. “This is work that was made in spite of the market, not because of it. These were artists doing work because they were compelled to do it—there was no recognition, no monetary reward, and also a lot of problems that many of them encountered.”
He also pointed to a fluke of consonance that had not been conceived at the start: “It’s a fortuitous coincidence of timing that these are artists who were working in an authoritarian state, and America is going through a moment of anxiety about becoming a more authoritarian society. No matter what you think of today’s America, it is not Hungary under socialism. But the show is about how artists found strategies of evasion to follow and do work. During this time, in-your-face propagandistic art was a non-starter.”