1. Why you decided to focus on Dora Maurer and her students for this summer programme?
Dóra Maurer is one of the most sought-after Hungarian artists, a member of the avant-garde generation well-known abroad. Dóra, as well as her peers like Judit Reigl, Ilona Keserü Ilona, Imre Bak and others, have gained international recognition all over the world in the past years. In 2019, Dóra Maurer became the first Hungarian artist to have a solo exhibition at Tate Modern, which was on display until January this year, with the generous support of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. At the same time, the White Cube exhibited her works.
As a result, Maurer’s legacy as an artist is hardly ever questioned in London anymore. The current showcase wanted to explore what makes a great artist like Dóra a great teacher. At the same time, we would like to show our audiences that newer generations of Hungarian artists are just as much intriguing to follow as the elderly generation.
2. The exhibition highlights the work of Dora Maurer’s students. Was it difficult to select the artists and on what basis you selected them?
The hard part was to find the focus. Dóra has been active for over five decades inspiring the new generation, and her teaching was famous for letting students explore all kinds of trends and techniques. We had to narrow this extensive scope to make the exhibition easy to handle, but at the same time, we aimed to showcase many different artists and different mediums.
We were pretty lucky with our curators from Art Market Budapest, the biggest art fair in the Central and Eastern European region. With their help, we were able to bring over better known and more recognised artists and some of those who are likely to become the next big hit of international art capitals, like London.
Besides great curatorial support, it was also relatively easy to get artists excited about this project. We have received quite many applications and very quickly. The idea came to mind at the end of last year, and by March, we had almost 40 pieces of artwork at our hands to display.
3. What is the one common element in these works have that shows Dora’s influence or touch?
The one common element is the artists’ freedom to experiment. Dóra, as a teacher, was always very keen on showing her students international trends and influences, even though Hungary, until 1990, was closed behind the Iron Curtain. At the same time, she never instructed her students which of these trends to follow or what media to use, but instead encouraged experiments for which she provided the background knowledge. The outcome was always the decision of the student. There was one thing she demanded: the aim for perfection, regardless of the style or influence.
For this approach, the exhibition is quite colourful.
4. Do you find it challenging for contemporary Hungarian artists to develop an international career? If so, why is that?
Albert László-Barabási, a Hungarian-American network scientist in his 2018 book entitled The Formula, proves by analysing big data that success, fame and recognition depend only partly on talent. The other part is subject to the rules of human networks.
Sometimes talent correlates with success, but other times talented people don’t achieve the recognition they deserve. Once in a while, people become famous without being very talented.
For Hungarian artists, there have been easier times, and there have been more challenging times. For Dóra’s generation, hardness came from trying to achieve an international career while behind the Iron Curtain, in a world where communication technology was nowhere near as advanced as today. As a result, their chances to reach international networks were much slimmer. Yet, once they could get in, they could manage their network a bit easier, and the fact that they were coming from a Soviet-type dictatorship already made them quite interesting.
Today, the Instagram generation of artists has better, more direct access to some of these networks. Still, they struggle with more significant competition and a noisy environment that makes it harder to tell their own stories.
On the other hand, data and experiences of our network of Hungarian cultural institutes worldwide show a clear trend that artists from the former Soviet bloc are on the rise again, and there is a growing international interest around them. This trend makes initiatives like Art Market Budapest thrive. It has become a trend to have a contemporary painting from Budapest or Prague, Krakow or Belgrade hanging on your wall.
5. When you develop your cultural programme, do you also think of what will appeal to a UK audience?
This is our primary goal and objective. Of course, we experiment with new genres and styles, but our events are most often focused on works and artists, which would appeal to a UK audience. After all, we are here to help talented Hungarian artists access the London networks of their peers and colleagues. Therefore we are always looking for programmes where artists from Hungary and the UK can cooperate, or a bridge could be built or strengthened between the two countries.
6. The exhibition was initially presented at the Hungarian Embassy and now it’s at David Kovats Gallery in Covent Garden. Will there be another presentation?
At this point, we believe the exhibition will leave London after 19 September and go to Berlin and Brussels later in the autumn. Therefore, I would encourage all of your readers to see the artworks at the David Kovats Pop-Up Gallery, 28-32 Shelton Street London, WC2H 9JE. The exhibition will be open by appointment Monday-Wednesday, 2 PM – 7 PM Thursday and Friday and from noon to 5 PM on weekends.
7. Finally, how do you find collaborating with different types of institutions such as Embassies or commercial Galleries? Why you decided to do that for this exhibition?
Collaborating with institutions like galleries or the Tate Modern or with the BFI, where we just concluded a retrospective for a talented Hungarian movie director, is always great. It is always a win-win: our artist gets access to the audiences of these institutions, which, in return, get a valuable programme their audiences would like.
An Embassy setting always gives an art exhibition or a recital an extra layer of glamour. In uncertain pandemic times, it allows extended flexibility compared to a for-profit venue.
There is one additional practical reason: in the past 21 years, we have outgrown our beloved event space at Covent Garden, which is a bit small for an exhibition this size. Thus we have been spending the past months, even years, looking for our new home, which is big enough to serve our growing audiences. I’m hopeful we will be able to announce a new, spacious venue very soon, but even if that happens, we will not abandon our existing partners and will remain on the lookout for more of them.