Curator: Gábor Gulyás It was over three decades ago that the jury of the Musée du Château Festival in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France, chaired by art historian Pierre Restany, awarded the “1ere PALETTE D’OR” prize to a young Hungarian artist, Károly Kelemen.
Already well-known in the Hungarian scene for his photographic works and “eraser paintings,” Kelemen distinguished himself in the international field not as a follower of one of the in-vogue trends, but as someone who reflected on the key tendencies of modern visual art in an autonomous and original manner.
Károly Kelemen has been a vital figure of contemporary Hungarian art, whose works can be seen in prestigious public collections. Invariably, cultural memory, particularly the art historical canon, serves as the starting point for his works. Kelemen makes well-known chapters of art history his own subject, constantly hijacking the coursebook version of the stories as he critically appropriates and recreates the stylistic elements and compositional topoi of this or that artist. Offering delightful intellectual adventures for those who are ready to engage in reflection, his artificial world is always temporary, never finalized: Kelemen’s works are sensitive manifestations of a constantly changing past, an ungraspable present, and an unpredictable future. They are par excellence free works – and this has nothing to do with how the age in which they were created curtailed personal freedoms. This is an oeuvre art history is hard put to classify: though Kelemen’s work has undeniable affinities with the ambitions of appropriation art, the Hungarian artist does not simply remodel or evoke the emblematic works of modern art, as, say, the American masters of Pop Art do, but makes them completely his own. His best-known, now iconic, figure is a bear, which is often difficult to identify as a symbolic alter ego of the artist himself. In alchemy, the bear is a symbol of the first state of matter, both fearful and kind, an animal that man could always only domesticate virtually, in fantasies and imagination. According to tradition, during its long hibernation it has direct contact with the other world, and life shoots up again when it wakes up in the spring and brings the message of transcendence to this world. The virtual and the playful appear with such spontaneity in Kelemen’s works – often reinterpreting classic pieces – as the teddy bear in the unselfconscious world of childhood.
In Károly Kelemen’s works, nothing is as we would expect things to be: bears iron, obelisks shrink, the dead look around cheerfully, and well-known stories take surprising turns.
This is a free world – for free spirits.