On the way from the studio
The only son of farmers living a hard life, William Stoner studied agriculture at the dreary University of Missouri, understanding little of why he was there but conscientiously living up to what was expected of him. He turned twenty in 1911, when at the English 101 seminary the professor read out one of the sonnets of a dead poet (“who nevertheless still bears some significance for a few of use”), a certain William Shakespeare, and, turning to Stoner, he asked: “Mr. Shakespeare speaks to you across three hundred years, Mr. Stoner, do you hear him?” Stoner was unable to answer, looked around and felt the world he had not seen before was coming into focus. According to the plot, the protagonist stopped his agricultural subjects at the end of the semester and signed up to literature courses. He did not return to the family farm but became a university man, living the life of no compromise like all the others unfit for real life. John William’s novel, Stoner, also achieved sudden success only recently, fifty years after it was written.
Similarly to how the life of Rainer Maria Rilke’s uncompromising life was changed – simultaneously with Stoner’s – by the single moment when he finally felt (‘understood?’) the paintings of the already dead Paul Cézanne at the great 1907 retrospective at the Salon d’Automne in Paris, and summed up his epiphany addressing it to the Torso of Apollo: “everyone who encounters him will abide by his law: the World is Poetry, or it is nothing.” (This of course is not the lyrical context of Rilke, the poet, but the wisdom of a man who became a professor of literature late in life.)
Either art is disturbingly nothing in everyday life, or it is everything. A lustrous crystal, an explanatory confinement – some kind of a secret. A bitter comment made by film director Andrei Tarkovsky is pertinent here: “In the second half of the 20th century, art has lost its mystery. Artists today desire instant and complete recognition and fast pay for what is happening in his soul.” And yet, although in a different way, but again and again there are films, novels, paintings, performances, installations, videos, graffiti and dances that open up the souls of ‘Stoners’, believed to be unfeeling, to the world.
The exhibition series, which despite having a new title every time is still called Fresh by most, has entered its third chapter at Műcsarnok, and undertook the simple mission of being there at the moment of the secret finding its form. Visitors will feel as if they were standing right by the artists, observing the moment of a work coming into being.
The Fresh exhibitions follow a very simple dramaturgy: Műcsarnok’s curators are asked to each find an artist within the scope of their interest in whose studio they have discovered something fresh and relevant, and then bring these new works and display them in one of the museum’s halls. The artist invited to the first Fresh (2016) organised in Műcsarnok were Zsombor Barakonyi, András Halász, György Jovián, Endre Lábass, István Nyári, István Orosz, Pika, Judit Rabóczky, Georgios Tzortzoglou and Gusztáv Ütő, while at the second exhibition, titled Nine Ateliers (2018) the exhibitors were József Baksai, József Bullás, Balázs Faa, András Kapitány, Péter Lajtai, Gabriella Nagy, Antal Pázmándi, Antal Turcsány and Agnes von Uray. The initial concept was not implemented to the letter in the case of any of the artists, since, being artists, they tend to be exceptions; thus, it happened that works were exhibited by two artists in the same hall; freshness was discovered by looking at a longer stretch of an oeuvre; old works were reinterpreted in the context of new ones; or a monumental work made in parts in an artist’s studio was displayed in its wholeness for the first time in the Kunsthalle’s spacious hall.
The Fresh series at Műcsarnok has its precedents in the not so remote past: the One Week exhibitions (2004, 2005) launched by Júlia Fabényi took a similar approach to artists’ studios, while Artists and Ateliers (2002) at the Ernst Museum under Katalin Keserü’s directorship was linked to the space of artistic creation. In a broader sense, all salon exhibitions virtually have the same motivation: to give an account of the excitement (critics call it boredom) of the moment of creation.
Besides tradition, the other idea that inspired the first Fresh exhibition was that of the ideal of art: artists are working on a problem freely and autonomously in their studios, immersing themselves in it, unveiling and presenting it to the world. In reality it happens like that, but most probably never exactly like that. There is no ’pure formula’ for what a studio constitutes, as it changes with art history as well as the artist and the creative process. In theory a studio is simply a relatively large, closed space with sufficient light, tools and, if needed, models. During the centuries, this space ranged from being a lonely cell through a well-organised workshop to a factory. In the same space and time dimension, a studio could be a damp, unheated attic room, a symbolic and boundless stage on which the entire scope of human life can be enacted, or it could be nature. Some artists secluded themselves in their studios and sought order in the midst of utter chaos; for others, the open atelier was the scene of social interaction, the stage-set for bohemian parties with friends, or the salon for critical and potential buyers of art. The spiritual and physical boundaries of what a studio is have been challenged in the relatively recent past too: think of land art, which can only be realised in distant locations, the lifestyle of artists-in-residence, always on the move, and even the confines of a computer screen, amounting to one tenth of a square metre. In the same way, the artist-engineer believing in utopias and the media-thinker ordering his picture by phone are also demolishing the walls of the imaginary studio like the visualizer catering to the needs of the incumbent power (let’s admit, this activity has had a weighty tradition since Giotto).
Notwithstanding the above, the organisers of Spaces (ap)Art thought in terms of the ideal of a studio (the notion that something significant is happening at the moment in the studios of András Bojti, Naomi Devil, Éva Mónika Horváth, Milorad Krstić, Marcell Németh, Sára Richter and Ábel Szabó): the ideal of immersion and creation expressed in painting by Vermeer and Vélazquez and perhaps expressed the most convincingly in writing by Rilke in his piece of advice to young poets: “go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you, without trying to interpret it. Perhaps you will discover that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without ever asking what reward might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and must find everything in himself and in Nature, to whom his whole life is devoted.” This year’s seven artists have already said yes to Rilke’s question. In the circumstances given to them, or sometimes despite them, they create in their studios.
András Bán, art critic