Contemporary reflections on museum sculptures

- 14 September 2017 - 8 October 2017


The idea for this exhibition project was prompted by the fact that barely a hundred of the works in the Hungarian National Gallery’s rich collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century sculpture (out of a total of almost 5,000 items) are regularly on public display. Our aim is to breathe new life into some of these museum sculptures, and to make them more visible with the help of some contemporary sculptors and other artists who work in three dimensions.

The project ties in with ongoing research into the classical influences that are found in contemporary art (sculpture), especially the Hungarian sculptural traditions that survive in present-day works. Museology and archiving have become central issues in international contemporary art in recent years.

The artists invited to participate were chosen in order to reflect, in terms of generations, techniques, materials and approaches, as wide a spectrum as possible of contemporary Hungarian sculpture (to the extent permitted by the frames and scope of the project), with particular attention devoted to highlighting female sculptors, who play such a significant role in the Hungarian art scene.

Each of the guest artists was asked to select one work, or ensemble of works, from the collection of the Department of Sculpture, mainly from those that are generally kept in storage. The work had to be in a suitable condition for putting on display, of course, and served as the inspiration for a new, contemporary work, created by the artist for this project.

The artists were given a completely free hand to produce their own works however they wished, with no restrictions imposed on technique or genre (anything and everything was welcomed, from conventional statues to installations, objects, or works of digital, conceptual or any other plastic art) – the only stipulation was for the new work in each exhibit to be a reflection of some kind on the original work from the gallery’s collection, as an extension of its formal, sculptural or thematic aspects.

The works will be presented as a series of “guerrilla exhibitions”, each lasting a month, in which one or other of the gallery’s spaces will be partly occupied by a contemporary creation and its “source” from the museum collection. Every month, a new pair of sculptures will be unveiled, always in a different part of the gallery.

These brief appearances are also intended to liven up the everyday goings-on inside the Hungarian National Gallery, deliberately disrupting the daily rhythm and marking a break from the usual museum routine. Our project promises to be an exciting experiment, where the thrill is provided by the “sudden” reappearance in the exhibition space of sculptures from the warehouse – these exhibitions demonstrate that in most cases, an artwork in storage is simply going through a temporary phase, and its status can change at any time. At the same time, the contemporary works engage these sculptures from the past in a new kind of conversation, enriching them with new dimensions. This discourse takes place within the walls of the permanent collection, where the works already present can join in with their own contributions. As a result of this dialogue, visitors to the gallery can take part in a novel, interactive artistic event.

The first pair of sculptures in the project are the Sleeping Girl (1971) by Miklós Borsos (1906–1990) and its contemporary reflection titled Barrier (2017) by Áron Zsolt Majoros. The first two sculptures are exhibited until 8 October in the exhibition hall of Art before 1945. The next exhibition will open on Thursday 12 October, in the frame of the Museum+ event.

The source of inspiration for Áron Zsolt Majoros was this dense, solidly self-contained composition by Miklós Borsos. One can sense the original dimensions of the block and how the artist designed the female figure to fit within it. Borsos’s respect for the stone, for its organic form and its expressive power, is almost palpable, and everything in the sculpture is subordinated to this. Timelessness is evoked by the sensitive and compact handling of the work. For Majoros, the title Barrier conveys multiple layers of meaning. When he creates his sculptures, he treats the human body as a shell. In this instance, the sculpture is bordered on four sides by invisible planes, which force it into a constrained pose. However, only the body is enclosed within these frames, for the soul and the spirit are unleashed to flow freely. The figure, arms wrapped around its raised knees, is an embodiment of strength and stability. The upright, candid posture and the outwardly turning head suggest pride and receptiveness to the outside world. As is characteristic of this artist, the solid surface of the calm, harmonious figure is opened up with horizontal incisions. The composition thus evokes the dichotomy of being both closed and open. Placing Borsos’s Sleeping Girl alongside this work reinforces the open/closed dialogue, with Majoros’s pierced sculpture representing the open side of the debate.

Recommended exhibitions