Solo exhibition / OBJECTS / opening speech by Dr. Attila Horányi art historian
Tünde Újszászi @ Galerie Pugliese Levi, Berlin
Ladies and Gentleman, dear Friends, Tünde,
It is an honor to be here, and also cause for a little pride:
You should know, that Tünde studied at a university — Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design
— where I was and still am teaching philosophy of art and art history; in fact, Tünde did study with
me in a few courses, and I was present when she participated in an inter-university academic
competition, and was also the theory consultant in her thesis work. It would be very fulfilling to
say, that I already knew, back then, where she was heading, what kind of artist she was going to
be — but that is not the case. Honestly, I had no idea and therefore my pride should be kept at
bay. And so I’d rather express my awe.
Expressing awe is not an objective attitude, so please forgive me, if at this point I am not going to
speak as a proper historian or critic of art, but rather as a one-time teacher and a friend.
When I was thinking how to introduce this exhibition, it occured to me that perhaps I tell you three
expressions that best describe Tünde as an artist. So I will propose three expressions, and then
another three, relating to the first ones, and finally, wrapping it all up, a last one. Seven, it will be,
altogether. And I’m going to explain all of them briefly, in due course.
The first three expressions:
And relating to these, explaining or deepening:
(high) modernism — textile
surrender — chance
perseverance — time
And finally, connecting these:
I use the term Modernism in the artistic sense (and not in a social or technological or, for that
matter, everyday sense). Artistic modernism can be approached from very different directions;
today I’d like to offer Clement Greenberg’s definition, who stated in his 1960 essay, Modernist
Painting, that “The essence of Modernism lies (...) in the use of characteristic methods of a
discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more
firmly in its area of competence.”
The textile department, where Tünde was studying, encouraged experimenting to a point,
because experimantation is indispensable for a creative designer. And while experimentation
cannot do without reflection, without having a critical stance toward the results, the products, it is
not the type of critical attitude artistic modernism thrives on.
Artistic modernism has to be critical about the forms, the methods, the technologies that are
used. It needs to rethink the accepted and to question the status quo. So besides reflecting on
the the question ‘Why this way?’ It has to ask, ‘Why at all?’ and ‘Why creating pattern?’, ‘Why
producing new materials?’
And digging even deeper: ‘Why doing textile?’ ‘Why creating art?’
But questioning is not enough. A modernist work has to have answers to these questions, woven
into its very texture. Not only in statements concerning the work, but it should be present in its
fabric, in its choice of material, of form, of color, of technique. That is actually what makes a
modern — and especially a non-figurative — work a work of art and not a decorative object.
Most of you are probably aware of the fact that Hungary was a communist dictatorship between
1949 and 1989. Repression was not of the same degree throughout these decades, but
censoreship was always present up until the late eighties, and was especially strong in the early
seventies, after the liberalizing tendecies of the late sixties. Modernist or — as it was called then
— neoavantgarde art was heavily censored and pushed under ground. There was only one
medium that fared better: textile. Censores probably thought that it was only decorative design,
lacking meaning, and also, being a feminine art form, why should the regime be afraid of it?
The New Textile movement of the 1970s, whose activities centered around a residency in Velem, a
small village in the country’s western region, asked precisely these modernist questions: Why
textile? How can we use it in art differently? What happens if it is installed as art? And what if the
installation is outdoors?
New Textile was studying contemporary fine art closely: minimalism, conceptual art and the like.
And was trying to go beyond the intellectual and artisitic space it had earlier been granted.
New Textile as a movement ceased to exist in the late seventies, so when Tünde started studying
at MOME, it was a closed story, an episode in the history of Hungarian art. Most of its participants
were either retired or busy doing industrial work, or creating beautiful textures. Tünde, however,
was lucky enough to have met a designer/artist, Lívia Pápai, who introduced her to a number of
influential artistic theories, most prominently, among them, Malevitch’s program in the The World
as Objectlessness. Through this she helped Tünde ask the modernist, critical questions
concerning textile practice — this was the time when she started using paper (folded and painted
black) in her work —, and more importantly she helped Tünde acquire, or perhaps work out a
modernist stance towards art.
The second expression I’d like to offer is surrender. Now surrender may not seem a self-evident
term in the context of art. An army may surrender in a war against the overwhelming force of its
enemy. Or a village, a town, a country surrenders to avoid total destruction, and save at least the
lives of its inhabitants. Or a criminal after being cross examined. Or, for that matter, Jesus Christ
surrendered and gave himself up to the will of God.
In this present context I’m borrowing the term from Brian Eno. Eno is the father of ambient music,
and his ideas concerning the birth of ambient and of surrender are relevant here.
In an interview, Eno recounted how — after playing in Roxy Music and publishing two or three LPs
of his own — he became dissatisfied with the rock song format and gradually started taking out
elements that had been considered essential up until that point. He took out the words, then
alteration of theme and chorus, then melody, so finally the classical song structure — with its
beginning, main part and end; with its direction — disappeared. What remained were sounds,
whose texture had to be experienced; and this experience needed immersion on the part of the
Eno went one step further, and decided that even the sounds, their length, their height, their tone,
their instrument, and their order should not be based upon his decision, and so he started
experimenting with, what he called, generative music. Sounds are generated on the basis of a few
initial principles — so even the producer could immerse himself in these textures, which were
unknown even to him.
Eno calls this surrender. Surrendering to forces outside, to forces beyond our understanding, our
reach, our reason, our determination. Surrendering to chance.
Now chance has a prominent place in the history of 20th century art. Think of Marcel Duchamp’s
Large Glass, and how it became finished after having been ruptured in 1923. Or of Man Ray’s
Dust Breeding (1920), Tristan Tzara’s suggestion on how to write a poem. Recall the surrealist
definition of beauty (quoted from Count Lautréamont’s Chants of Maldoror): “Beautiful as the
chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella”. Think about John
Cage’s music or the gesture painting in the fifties. Think about unscripted happenings. Or
environmental works that are exposed to the weather and to time. Ephemeral pieces in various
states of decay. And I could go on.
Clearly, many twentieth century artists have been trying to go beyond their egos by evoking
chance in the creative process. By surrendering to forces outside. By letting it go.
I do believe that this is exactly what happens in the case of Tünde’s prints — she basically pushes
paint through the pores of the prepared canvas. It is possible to control the process, but
impossible to control the result. It is letting it go.
Earlier I was pointing out Tünde’s relation to the Hungarian New Textile movement of the
seventies. And while weaving — which many of them did, in some ways — cannot be but
generative, and while some of them was experimenting with environmental works destined to
decay in open air, the artists were always in control. They were modern artists.
If I’m not mistaken, Tünde is unifying both traditions: she is asking modernist questions but
abandoning the modernist artistic ego. She is letting it go.
But — and with this I come to my third term, perseverance — letting it go, letting things happen
is not the same as being lazy. Giving up control should not be mistaken for giving up thinking, or
being critical to one’s ways and means and materials of creation.
On the contrary, it is being alert, constantly on the watch-out.
And persevere when nothing happens, or when nothing seems to happen.
Over the years of instructing dissertations, following artists as an art critic, or being an author
myself, I have come to the conclusion that it is not so much talent that great accomplishment
needs. It is good to have some, but not enough by far. Many would say, especially at school, that
it is diligence that one needs to make things happen. True. But still not enough. Why being
diligent — one can always ask —, why not go to the movies, or do something more interesting?
Or satisfying? Or beneficial? And the truth is that diligence is not, and can not be an answer in
So I have come to recognize preseverance as the single most important character trait in long
range accomplishments. Having stamina to do what you have set out to do, in the face of selfdoubt,
lack of recognition and other destructive factors, or simply in the face of time’s passing, is
the single most important personal quality that great work needs.
Giving time its due, remaining empty-handed for months, even years — if that is what it takes to
reach one’s goal — well, that’s tough.
Ibolya Hegyi, one of the greatest practitioners and theoreticians of the art of tapestry, called her
medium: web of time. It takes very long time, she wrote, months or years, to weave a carpet, with
long and lonely hours: doing, thinking, meditating, doing, thinking... This thinking, this time is
preserved by the work, it is woven into its very fabric. Web of time — that is the work.
I do believe this idea can be generalized without losing its force. Important work is almost always
woven time, of stamina, of perseverance.
Tünde’s work is the best example of that — both her woven pieces, literally, and her painted
works, more metaphorically. She has always had strength to do things as long as they needed to
be done; or wait, as long as it takes, to do something meaningful.
And never lose direction.
And this brings me to my last term, the seventh, that will help me connect the dots. How is it, we
may ask, that a person never seems to lose direction? What does it take to stay on course?
I believe, it is taste, that helps us stay on good course. It is our taste — more than anything else:
reason or love — that guides us in our choices, personal, communal and in this case, artistic.
Taste is needed to decide if a long awaited work does have the necessary qualities to be shown
to others, to be included in the portfolio. Taste is needed to decide whom to show together with,
where to show and when to show. Taste is a faculty that can — somehow — compute the various
and diverse factors an artist (or any person, for that matter) experiences, thinks, being told
concerning a given problem, and bring out the simple answer: ‘Yes, I like it’; or ‘No, I do not want
anything to do with it’.
Modernism, textile, surrender, chance, perseverance, time, and these objects surrounding us, are
all concequences of decisions Tünde had to make in the last couple of years. She made these
decisions in good taste.
And thus, besides expressing a deep liking for these works, I’m also expressing an awe for Tünde
as an artist.