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El Kazovsky (1948-2008) was one of the most original and potent Hungarian artists of the late twentieth century and the turn of the millennium. As a painter, a performance artist, a stage designer and – as we now know – a poet, he left an enormous legacy of works, whose immense vivaciousness and profundity were immediately clear to his contemporaries. This exhibition of close to 400 of his works at the Hungarian National Gallery is intended to offer a more precise art historical picture of everything that El Kazovsky left behind after his painfully early death.
Each of the distinctly separate sections of the exhibition allows us to see a different characteristic cross-section of the life and works of El Kazovsky.
The arrangement sets out neither an order of importance, nor a clear route that visitors should follow, but instead encourages us to discover and come across unexpected connections as we move around the labyrinthine space.
The artist was intensely drawn to the fetishisation of certain objects, people and artworks. The acts of raising, worshipping and demolishing fetish objects formed a central theme of the artist’s paintings, installations and celebrated performances: his insatiable and doting desire for unattainable Beauty brought to life a tremendous multitude of richly sensitive artistic surrogates for the living body of the Other. The way he toyed with fiction, with frames, with planar projections, with the form of graphic novels and with literary roles sustains the deeply sprung theatricality of his art. Through intensive and passionate juxtapositions of colours, spaces, sizes and shapes, his works impact on the viewer with an imposing, almost magnetic power. This is exemplified by one of the sensations of the show: a display of the monumental ensemble of stage and costumes from his Dzhan panopticons, the celebratory games that he performed for a period lasting more than twenty years.
Every presentation of El Kazovsky must deal specifically with the question of sexual identity – in a tactful but clear way – for not to do so would be hypocritical. The artist always valiantly stood up against the tyranny of gender stereotypes: yet because he had grown up with, in his own words, a “nineteenth-century stylised male consciousness”, he formed his own intermediate position in opposition to the strictly pre-defined criteria of male and female roles. His deeply influential family and cultural roots, and his love of classical Russianliterature and culture, are also given their own dedicated section. Although essentially independent from the previous sections, there is no avoiding the avant-garde origins that marked the start of El Kazovsky’s career, and the Hungarian underground counterculture of the 1970s and 1980s. Finally, in a self-contained section provocatively named the “White Cube”, we focus the spotlight on El Kazovsky’s painting. In contemporary art criticism, the expression refers to that apparently neutral gallery space which places exclusive focus on the “purely” aesthetic and “absolute painterly” qualities of the works; in other words, the art can be appreciated free from every external, incidental and local reference, as it were, and without any social, national, cultural, religious or sexual contexts, so that nothing can prevent the absolute painterly values from coming to the fore.
This exhibition was made possible with the cooperation of the El Kazovsky Foundation.
Curators: Krisztina Jerger, András Rényi, László Százados