New exhibition at the Vasarely Museum

Vasarely Museum
13 June – 22 September 2019

The Vasarely Museum is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing with a special exhibition documenting the connection between art and space through works made at the height of the Cold War and conveying people’s euphoric faith in technology.

The pilots of the Apollo 11 mission of the Unites States spaceflight programme made history when they landed on the Moon on 20 July in 1969. The successful landing and the Moon walk of the two cosmonauts, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin – that was broadcast on television live across the globe – can be regarded as a milestone in human civilisation and the greatest scientific achievement of mankind. The event also sent a symbolic message. More and more people began to think of the possibilities of making contact with alien cultures, while artists were also seriously preoccupied with this concept.

The Moon landing coincided with the unfolding of the Art and Technology Movement given impetus by the rapid progress in microelectronics and telecommunication, the growing popularity of kinetic and cybernetic art, as well as with Victor Vasarely’s op art gaining ground. Vasarely reached the peak of his career in 1969 and had his largest-scale and most popular exhibitions in the same year. His works were met with success by the public as they found an adequate visual expression with which to convey the new scientific worldview captivating people’s imagination. From the mid-1950s onwards, space research occupied an increasingly significant place in Vasarely’s choice of subjects and he was drawn to the cosmic dimension of optical art. He frequently titled his pictures from this period after stars and constellations (Vega, Orion, Eridan, Neptune, Betelgeuse, Cassiopeia, etc.) and he even named an important composition of his after Laika, the canine space traveller who was launched into orbit around the Earth aboard the Sputnik 2 satellite and was the first living being to travel into space. Vasarely’s epoch-making series titled CTA 102 was inspired by the electromagnetic radiation interpreted as a transmission sent by sentient beings from distant planets, spotted simultaneously by Soviet and American scientists in the mid-1960s. The abstract geometrical structures of his compositions stepping beyond the traditional perception of space can be understood as the visual readings of “galactic information”. Vasarely’s desire to conquer space was only realised in 1982, when Jean-Loup Chrétien, the first French astronaut, took one hundred pieces of the artist’s numbered screen prints with him to space aboard Soyuz T-6. After the return of the mission, these works were auctioned off by UNESCO and the proceeds were used to support the scientific education of students living in third world countries.

The Vasarely Museum’s exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing presents the connection between art and space through works made at the height of the Cold War and reflecting the euphoria felt over technology at the time.  The selected material pays tribute to ideas conceived half a century ago and aimed at the creation of space art. Through iconic – albeit not so well known – works, the show documents the desire of artists to throw off the earthly shackles and take their works to a distant point of the universe, possibly displaying them on the Moon.

In addition to Vasarely’s rarely exhibited works composed to cosmic themes, visitors can see the Magnetic Manifesto, an action performed in 1960 by Vassilakis Takis, a Greek sculptor, during which he symbolically launched the poet, Sinclair Beiles, into space before the first astronaut, Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth. Moon Museum is in the focus of the present exhibition, which was borrowed from an American private collection. This work is actually a tiny ceramic wafer intended as a conceptual gag with which humanity wished to send a message to extra-terrestrial civilisations about contemporary art in the USA. The work was created through the collaboration of the most prominent New York artists of the time. The wafer containing a miniature drawing each by John Chamberlain, Forrest Myers, David Novros, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol was smuggled into the lunar lander module of Apollo 12 prior to its launch and “was left” on the Moon in secret on 19 November in 1969. Thus, it was due to the second successful Moon landing that an artwork made it to the Moon. The work’s prototype can be seen at the exhibition along with a specimen of the Fallen Astronaut by Paul Van Hoeydonck, a Belgian “space artist”, the first artwork taken to the Moon with the official consent of NASA.

In autumn 1969, between the first two Moon landings, the first exhibition devoted to the theme of space travel titled The Moon Show was organised in the exhibition hall of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The biggest sensation of the exhibition, however, were the lunar soil samples that were put on public view for the very first time. While organising the exhibition, the curator of the show, Wayne Andersen, had accidentally opened the vial filled with lunar dust in a way that the fine cosmic sediment got stuck on his hand. In accordance with the strict safety regulations, NASA’s geology experts were only allowed to experiment with the lunar samples in closed spaces, and so it happened that the first person to – figuratively – touch the surface of the Moon was an art historian and curator.

Thanks to the fascinating archive footage discovered in the Vasarely Museum during the preparations for the exhibition, visitors can embark upon a journey to The Moon Show of fifty years ago, which will be evoked, among others, through the interviews conducted with Wayne Andersen, the curator of the exhibition, and with Gus Kayafas, who made the documentation for the show.

The exhibition mounted at the Vasarely Museum will be made comprehensive not only by artefacts linked to the Moon and space  but also by some space travel equipment from the period, as well as recordings of the Moon landings and critical adaptations discrediting the landings, including responses by Hungarian artists. The historical section, one of the most important parts of the exhibition, presents the Moon as an outstanding iconic symbol of universal culture through one work each from the epochs from Egyptian art to the invention of photography. The exhibits displayed here serve as a kind of discursive field for the pieces made in the second half of the twentieth century.

Kevin A. Murray, Citi CEO for Central Europe and Country Head for Hungary: “As a continuation of supporting arts and cultural programs in Hungary, Citi Hungary is proud to be the principal sponsor of the Vasarely Museum’s exciting celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing, an extraordinary achievement of humankind. We all know that arts enrich our lives and strong cultural and flourishing artistic expressions are essential to every community. Citi takes this opportunity to highlight the power of innovation in change and in driving progress in every field of life, including contemporary art. This cooperation is a further commitment on our part to give back something to the society where we are performing, inspiring our customers, employees and the Hungarian community.

Curator of the exhibition: Márton Orosz, art historian


Citi Hungary
With a more than 34-year history of presence, ingenuity and leadership in Hungary, today, Citi Hungary operates as a unique global bank providing a wide range of world-class products and services to large local corporations, SMEs, multinational clients, financial institutions and the public sector. Together with our Citi Service Center Budapest – established in 2005, providing services in various areas of Technology, Operations, Finance, and Risk & Control for Citi-entities worldwide – more than 2,300 employees work for Citi in Hungary.

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