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The first attempt aimed at a comprehensive summary of the history of computer art in Hungary was in 1990 within the framework of an exhibition organised in France with the participation of nine invited artists. Forming part of the Fête de l’image (Festival of the Image) series organised in Lille, the show L’Artist hongrois et de l’ordinateur (Hungarian Artists and the Computer), assembled by Joël Boutteville, a notable curator of new media art, encompassed all the possible areas of digital art (computer graphics and animation) that emerged in Hungary in the last years of socialism. Boutteville selected some one hundred and twenty works by nine Hungarian artists (András Böröcz, Áron Gábor, György Galántai, Ágnes Hegedűs, Llászló Kiss, Hannawati P. Raden, László László Révész, János Sugár and Tamás Waliczky), which were also presented at two other venues (Étampes and Helsinki) in 1990 and 1991.
Hungarian computer works made in the last years of socialism were novel by operating outside the traditional institutional structure of fine art. However, the message of advocating the freedom of art lost its previous importance and gradually its topicality after the collapse of state socialism and the consolidation of a western type political system. For twenty-five years no one took an interest in the fate of the works that were first exhibited in 1990 in Lille, and a year later in Étampes and Helsinki. Although for a long time they were believed to have been lost, they were in fact carefully kept by the curator Joël Boutteville, and were returned home to Hungary at the beginning of 2016. The show, which can be regarded as a milestone in Hungarian media art, exerted an influence upon the experiments carried out with the technical image after 1990 and the role of this medium in the changed climate of cultural policy after the change in the system, while it also paved the way for including digital culture within the institutional framework of culture and art.
Intensifying international interest has been taken in the early period of new media in recent times, although no exhibition has been solely devoted to the theme in Hungary thus far. The present exhibition reconstructs the show curated by Boutteville a quarter of a century ago and by placing the medium in an international context explores the work of the pioneering Hungarians who revolutionised digital imaging, while providing a comprehensive picture of the first period of computer art in Hungary from the mid-1970s to the democratic transition.
Besides the experiments in Hungarian computer art between 1975 and 1981 (including works by István Bartók, Gábor Bódy, László Csízy, Ágnes Háy, Károly Kismányoky and Gyula Száva) the general public had the opportunity to become familiar with works by pioneers of Hungarian descent who had revolutionised digital imaging.
The first chapter of the exhibition will provide an overview of the Hungarian reception of the medium linked to calls for computer art projects, allowing an insight into the history of digital culture, while familiarising visitors with the Digitart exhibition organised in the Museum of Fine Arts in 1986.
Hungarian computer art enabled Hungarian artists active in the non-official art scene in the softened up environment of the Kádár regime in the last years of the socialist system to create something up-to-date that was free of ideology. Computer-generated works fell outside the traditional institutional structure of visual arts; therefore, their exhibition did not require approval from the Department of Visual Arts, the official authority assessing artworks. These works were not part of the established canon, and they did not follow conventional schemes based on which they could be linked to previous traditions. Besides the devices used to create them, the media of these artworks were also intangible; for example, they could be transferred anywhere on a floppy disk. The computer democratised art and brought an end to the artificial hierarchy between the branches of art created by socialist cultural policy.
The exhibition is accompanied by a bilingual catalogue (Hungarian and English).
The exhibition is curated by Márton Orosz, director of the Vasarely Museum, Budapest.