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Art Deco Budapest. Posters, Lifestyle and the City (1925–1938)

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Art Deco Budapest. Posters, Lifestyle and the City (1925–1938)

Hungarian National Gallery, building C - 12 April – 28 August 2022

The Hungarian National Gallery’s exhibition titled Art Deco Budapest. Posters, Lifestyle and the City (1925–1938) presents a comprehensive overview of the distinct visual culture of the interwar period. The main focus of the exhibition is Hungarian Art Deco, with a highlight on poster art and modern urban lifestyle. The majority of the more than 250 exhibits are rarely seen at exhibitions, and some of them are displayed for the very first time.

The Hungarian National Gallery’s large-scale exhibition seeks to portray the exciting period of the 1920s and 1930s, which brought about important changes. It takes visitors on a journey through the era and Art Deco using the genre of the poster. One hundred years ago, after the trauma of World War I and the devastation of the Spanish flu, in the second half of the 1920s, the economic consolidation was coupled with people’s unfettered desire to enjoy life, with glamour and the sometimes decadent lust for life being at the heart of Art Deco tastes.

Art Deco drew on a wide range of inspirations: the achievements of avant-garde fine arts, decorative stylisation and elements of historical styles as well as a rediscovery of folk art, exotic cultures, and even ancient Egyptian art. Above all, Art Deco posters sought to catch people’s attention through dazzling spectacle, the glamour of elegance, the seduction of eroticism, the allure of the exotic, the thrill of speed, and the eerie romanticism of the underworld. Art Deco equally exerted an influence on fine arts and applied arts, film, theatre, music and architecture.

The exhibition focuses on the visual culture of Hungarian Art Deco, with an emphasis on poster art and modern urban lifestyle. It presents a comprehensive picture of the distinct visual culture of the interwar years through a display of special posters, furniture, garments, films and urban spaces, and draws attention to all the elements that played a role in shaping public taste at the time. The exhibited posters document the phenomena of the period: the new feminine ideal, modern fashion, the cult of sport and health as well as inventions – the automobile, radio, talkies – and new forms of entertainment, such as jazz concerts, nightclubs, and revues.

Visitors can see more than 130 posters and numerous poster designs by the period’s foremost graphic designers, including big names such as Róbert Berény, József Bottlik, István Irsai, Lajos Kozma, Kató Lukáts, Gitta Mallász, Tibor Réz Diamant and many more. Their posters advertised the luxury goods of the era, the films running in the cinemas as well as the cafés and nightclubs in Pest.

The exhibition gradually takes visitors from the private and personal to the public sphere. It starts with the objects of women’s new fashion and body culture, middle-class interiors with modern furnishings, objects of everyday use and decorative pieces, the masterpieces of Art Deco applied art. These are followed by the lively spaces of the big city, Budapest, evoking the glamour of urban supermarkets and cinemas, the cult of Hollywood stars, as well as the legendary Budapest nightlife. Posters from the period feature Josephine Baker’s Budapest performance and revue dancers in dazzling costumes. One of the most beautiful Hungarian Art Deco posters, designed for Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis creates the vision of the modern big city filled with skyscrapers, also dates from this period. From the mid-1930s picturesque posters promoted Budapest as “the city of baths” and other regions of Hungary.

No comprehensive exhibition has ever been organised to present Budapest, as a metropolis in the interwar years in such complexity. Besides posters, periodicals, advertisements, magazine illustrations and applied art objects: furniture, ceramic and glass works, garments, shoes, accessories, sheet music, costume and furniture designs as well as architectural drawings evoke the era.

 

Curator of the exhibition: Anikó Katona, art historian

Exhibiting partner institutions: National Széchényi Library, Museum of Applied Arts

Main Sponsor: Szerencsejáték Zrt.

Partner: Bartók Spring International Art Weeks

Highlights, curiosities

Tibor Réz Diamant: Royal Orfeum – Baker, 1928

In 1925, Josephine Baker (with, among other things, her iconic banana dance) burst onto the European entertainment scene overnight in Paris, and within a few years she had become one of Europe’s most admired stars. Her 1928 tour, which included a performance in Budapest, was a worldwide sensation. Baker’s Budapest performance was even discussed in the parliament, and before the show she had to present the production to high-ranking officials for approval. Her Budapest premiere was a resounding success. Baker’s popularity is demonstrated by the fact that one of her revue films was screened in Hungary accompanied by a performance by the home-grown star Nusi Somogyi, who imitated the coloured dancer in both looks and movements.

József Bottlik: Orion Radio, 1930s

In the 1920s Orion was one of the best-known Hungarian brands, its logo, along with its posters and advertising publications were designed by József Bottlik; it was his style that shaped the image of the company. It was defined by Art Deco, often with dazzling and monumental visuals. The brand name evokes cosmic associations, with the globe and stars often recurring on the posters. The three-headed logo, symbolising the spread of sound in all directions and evoking both Indian totems and masks, remained in use on the company’s products until the 1960s.

Gitta Mallász: Ungarn, ca. 1930

“Gitta Mallász’s widely known poster of a Hungarian little boy has inundated Europe’s travel agencies. … Based on my personal travel experiences, I can say that this poster is highly appreciated abroad...” wrote Károly Rosner about one of the most famous Hungarian tourism posters. Gitta Mallász, born in Ljubljana, was already fifteen when she learnt Hungarian, yet she primarily drew inspiration for her art from Hungarian folk culture. Together with her friend, Hanna Dallos, they collected and studied folk art. Hanna wore folk costumes, and their atelier flat was full of authentic folk objects.

Andor Bánhidi: Balaton – Hungary, ca. 1940

In the 1920s, with the rise of mass society, travel became an affordable pastime for millions. Tourism emerged as an industry that generated substantial revenue, and therefore was propagandised at state level. Hungary started from a rather unfavourable position in the competition for tourists after the Treaty of Trianon of 1920 when it lost two-thirds of its territory, as most of its traditional tourist destinations now laid outside its borders. International tourism was mainly directed towards the capital – its advertising was dominated by the concept of “Budapest as a city of spas” and the image of a modern cosmopolitan city – with Lake Balaton as another important destination.

György Konecsni: Budapest Spa Town, 1936

As the cult of sport and healthy living emerged, the magnificent natural assets of Budapest, its thermal springs, was valued especially highly in the interwar years. The “city of spas” concept based on this was introduced in tourism advertising in the 1930s. György Konecsni, who trained to be a painter, appeared like a shooting star in the field of tourism posters after winning a poster competition launched in 1932 by thermal baths. One of his most famous works is this poster advertising Budapest and emphasising the importance of water.

Benedek Baja: Budapest Trade Fair, 1923

One of the most characteristic trends of Hungarian Art Deco was represented by the artistic period of interior designer and graphic artist Lajos Kozma, starting in the 1910s, when he began to create his modern reinterpretations of the peasant Baroque and Rococo styles. The Art Deco produced decorative reinterpretations of historical styles. This approach is represented by the poster of Benedek Baja, with decorative stylisation of Art Nouveau and early Art Deco letters. The poster is characterised by monumentality and staging, a very typical Art Deco technique of creating a powerful effect.

Art Deco Budapest. Posters, Lifestyle and the City (1925–1938)

12 April – 28 August 2022

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