Two of the most prominent solo exhibition spaces for contemporary art in Hungary: Ernst Museum in Pest and Kiscelli Museum in Buda. One of them is currently presenting its last-ever exhibition and the other has been in the focus of interest because of censorship issues. The two exhibitors, Eszter Csurka and Kriszta Nagy x-T, are well-established artists in the contemporary art scene with their works in all of the major art collections. This unique coincidence gave me the idea to ask the same questions to both of them.
Where do you place this exhibition in your career, and what do you consider as milestones so far?
Eszter: I consider it an important one, but I do not think in terms of milestones. I have had many good exhibitions, but I am not in a position to say. If I really have to name a few, “Desire” – a large installation-type exhibition – was interesting at the Kiscelli, and my solo show in Szeged at the Reök Palace was also memorable. The ones abroad, in India and South Korea, were also made interesting by the cultural exchange.
Kriszta: Oh wow… I feel this exhibition is definitely a milestone… the height of my career, maybe. I don’t know. This is a hard and complex question to answer. My first milestone would be the billboard (I am a contemporary painter), the second one would be the one with the tits (200 000 huf), which became known thanks to an exhibition at Kiscelli Museum. So it is quite nice to come back here again. “So far”, at WAX, was my first comprehensive, lifework exhibition. It was an uplifting experience, even I was surprised by the consistency of the work I put on the table. And then, the next milestone is this one right now, I guess. And there are a lot of small things I am proud of, such as my “like death” exhibition, Tereskova’s “Hungary”, my performance in front of the parliament, and my “Action” series… I am not sure I am following the chronological order here…
Would you consider Kiscelli Museum/Ernst Museum as a cult space? How did it influence you when you were putting the exhibition together?
Kriszta: Absolutely. I was influenced by the space of Kiscelli, I am not even sure it’s only subconsciously. I had a lot of preparation time, more than a year, I had many furtive ideas, and the decision to make this about death and pseudo-life was shaped by events in my own life. The architectural elements of the church became tombstones.
Eszter: It is bizarre to be the last one to exhibit in a space that has been home to contemporary art since 1912. Thus my exhibition has this strange importance, since practically speaking Ernst Museum ends with me. In my opinion, it will leave a void. At the same time, I was in a privileged situation as we could transform the space to our liking – we tore down walls and put up new ones, the exhibition and the space work together exactly how I imagined it.
Did you manage to show everything you wanted to?
Kriszta: No, as many already know, the Mapplethorpe series have fallen victim to censorship, but since one of the leading concepts of the exhibition is injury – my stone pictures are about injury and so are my wound series – when I actually realized what was happening – Mapplethorpe is assaulted – I considered it an act of God, and I accepted that they would be exhibited this way.
Eszter: I was strict with myself, I did not want it to go in a retrospective direction rather only to go back a little. So I left out a lot of things to create solid, clearly defined spaces. I do not regret leaving anything out. I am happy with the results.
What triggered the inclusion of the body into your artistic projects?
Eszter: We are enclosed in our bodies. Anything spiritual we can only show through our bodies.
Kriszta: Right now, I feel… I cannot answer this… It has been such a long time since I did that.
What does the body mean to you?
Kriszta: Body, in my art, is my own body. My body is my art, my art is my soul, this is what I always say. My body, my life are – in my reading – impressions, impressions of society, of politics, of our age, and when I depict my own body, I depict this impression, this is how I talk about the age we live in.
Eszter: It is a capsule in which the soul travels and through which it can be made visible.
Do you feel dependent on society?
Eszter: All artists are. Denial does not lead anywhere, it never has, all artists are absolutely exposed.
Kriszta: We people are defenseless against the weather, the economic crisis, stupidity, fashion – art is a free space, defenseless but free, even if it is censored. And freedom is no small thing.
Do you think you would have answered the previous question differently if you were not living and working in Eastern Europe?
Eszter Csurka: I do not think the degree of dependence changes, but the rules of the game do. Western artists are just as exposed, but the extremes are elsewhere.
Kriszta Nagy: Absolutely… I live here, I am under different influences as opposed to elsewhere… like I said, I am an impression of my own age, my own culture. The picture would be totally different if I lived in Paris or in London, even though I am free to go to these places and boundaries have dimmed.
Painter and media artist Kriszta Nagy x-T (1972) is a radical, subversive figure in the Hungarian art scene. She debuted in the art scene in 1997 and has essentially been exploring, with outspoken works, two sets of issues, which meet in her own female identity. Her work highlights the obsolete role models that are handed down to women and the inconsistencies of the clichés that the media promotes about the new roles and body image of the woman. By appropriating the devices of mass media (billboard, newspaper advertisement, fashion photo, tabloid publicity), she turns their modi operandi to her own use. A related subject is the social acknowledgement of women as artists (what is an artist worth if she is a woman?). Institutions of art education and commercial galleries are the targets of those works that reflect upon the anomalies of the local professional art scene and challenge taboos.
The artist Eszter Csurka (1969) is a vibrantly exciting, versatile representative of the contemporary Hungarian art scene. Although she is primarily known as a painter, she has also created significant artworks as a theatrical director, cameraman, photographer, and performer in the past two decades. The main theme of her work is the body in constant motion: the human body. She often ventures to the very frontiers of this immense topic: Her pictures put the laws of physics in a new perspective, they find new paths for the material and eliminate the trivial boundaries of anatomy. Sometimes the flesh-bodies of her canvases transform into something dissimilar, as if in another dimension, in a different time and a different place.
A private collector, Lajos Ernst, a well-known figure of Budapest society, founded the Ernst Museum in 1912 with the aim of making his artistic and historic collection accessible to the public. The institute was founded as a result of the intention to patronize art. During the last century, it became one of the most significant exhibition spaces for the 20th century Hungarian visual arts. According to a governmental decision from August 2013, it will now house the newly established Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Centre.
KISCELLI MUSEUM (MUNICIPAL PICTURE GALLERY) Kiscelli Museum opened in 1949 and two departments of the Budapest Historical Museum can be seen there: items of fine arts of the Capital Gallery and the modern historical collection. Its fine arts collection comprises valuable pieces held by the Municipal Picture Gallery, established in 1889. The museum houses the best samples of Hungarian painting, sculpture, and graphical art created in the last 150 years, with a special focus placed on 20th century and contemporary art. The museum also possesses collections of photos, posters, and characteristic lifestyle items related to the modern period of Budapest’s history.