Dialogue in Black and White. Polish and Hungarian prints 1918-1939

- 13 March 2009 - 28 June 2009


The exhibition presents prints from the multifarious Polish and Hungarian art in the interwar years. Graphic art, which is open to painting, book art and popular culture alike, and thus often responds more directly to actualities than other genres, played an important role in this period. The outstanding works of the 1920s and ’30s are not grouped by style or chronology. The prints produced with diverse graphic techniques are put on display in two large groups that reflect the major artistic problems of the age.

The chapter entitled City, Crowd, Machine begins with the expressionist current of Hungarian and Polish avant-garde, with social revolt and a radical renewal of art being its motors. (Kubicki, Wroniecki, Hulewicz, Syrkus, Szmaj, Wasowicz, Kassák, Bortnyik, Uitz, Mattis Teutsch). The Hungarian contributors to the international constructivist movement (Uitz, Péri, Moholy-Nagy) were artists forced into emigration for their leftist stance, while Polish constructivism and geometric abstraction became a constituent of the cultural spectrum of newborn Poland (Berlewi, Cieslewski, Stazewski, Hiller).

Despite the different background conditions, there were similar disputes among Polish and Hungarian artists’ groups about the primacy of artistic experimentation, practical design and political agitation. The art of the twenties is characterized by the conveyance of 20th-century civilization with the highlights and dire side of urban life. The artists carried away by the new lifestyle, customs, fashion of the modern middle class found a channel of expression in art deco (Vértes, Molnár-C. Pál, Gorynska, Konarska, Ostoja-Chrostowski). Those who conceived of the metropolis as the venue of mass society, mechanization, the suppressed and the outcast, expressed their ideas in the shocking and visionary styles of expressionism and surrealism, tinted with irony or bitterness (Derkovits, Zilzer, Sugár, Linke, Lewicki, Osostowicz, Cieslewicz). It was the socially most perceptive artists who responded to the looming danger of the war most directly and sensitively (Sopocko, Linke, Gross-Bettelheim, Zilzer).

The other great thematic unit of the exhibition bears the title In Search of Tradition. In Hungarian graphic art, the Szőnyi circle was an important representative of efforts to find support in the lasting values of universal and Hungarian culture. The members of the group used the time-honoured technique of the copperplate etching to render the Arcadia motif, which played a great role in early 20th-century Hungarian modernism (Aba-Novák, Szőnyi, Patkó). Their melancholic, timeless world has distant relatives in the costume scenes and landscapes of some Polish artists (Borowski, Brandel). In addition to the European artistic tradition, folk art was a source of inspiration for the artists of both countries. In Poland the culture of the mountain Gorals – in Hungary that of the peasantry of the Great Plain and Transylvania played the greatest role (Skoczylas, Bartlomiejczyk, Gáborjáni Szabó, Pekáry, Lajos, Bordás). Prints became important vehicles for the artistic reinterpretation of folk tales, ballads and proverbs (Buday, Dunin-Piotrowska, Stryjenska). Laden with difficulties and beauties, peasant life regulated by ancient customs and the struggle with nature appears in the prints of several woodcutters ((Kulisziewicz, Gy. Szabó, Imre Nagy, Gáborjáni Szabó). A more indirect response to the present was conveyed by illustrations of national and international literature (Mrozewski, Molnár-C., Ostoja-Chrostowski, Divéky, Gara). Like in book art, a fertile combination of archaizing and modernity characterized the cityscapes as well (Mrozewski, Cieslewski, Tyrowicz, Mondral, Ploszay, Gáborjáni Szabó, Patkó, Vadász, Divéky). The fourth decisive set of ideas which could serve as a guide in the grave moral issues raised by the age was religion. Christian iconography was often used to reflect on the fundamental problems of the age in a universally valid form instead of expressing the artist’s subjective religious experience (Aba-Novák, Szőnyi, Tarjáni, Nándor Lajos Varga). In Polish graphic art, there are frequent references to popular religion and its visual devotional material (Konarska, Kransnodebska-Gwardowska, Gorynska, Skoczylas). In the period in question, the historic churches in Hungary made efforts for renewed artistic representation. Competent artists have contributed original solutions in graphic art to the revival of church art as well (Fáy, Molnár-C., K. Győrfy).

The novelty of the Dialogue in Black and White is comparison, precisely the comparison of the artists of two Central European countries. Traditionally, the art works in this region have been compared to the trends and world-famous masters of France, Germany or England, taken for the paragon and absolute measure.

This exhibition will be a real treat for the lovers of graphic art who take delight in intimate, close observation of works.

Curators oh the exhibition: Katalin Bakos (HNG), Anna Manicka (National Museum in Warsaw), Gábor Tokai (HNG)

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