György Jovánovics: The Best Work of My Life
Curators: Nemere Kerezsi, Sebestyén Székely
György Jovánovics is one of the outstanding figures of Central and Eastern European avant-garde art. He sees himself as a sculptor and regards his photographs, installations and actions as belonging within his sculptural oeuvre. The artist is a partisan and practitioner of pataphysics, that is, anonymous artistic interventions in society.
His first solo exhibition, held in 1970 in the Adolf Fényes Hall, is regarded as a key moment in Hungarian neo-avant-garde art. This exhibition space was one of the few the political regime made available – at the exhibitors’ expense – to this “tolerated” category of artists. Its pentagon-shaped area was in fact quite unsuitable for exhibitions, but Jovánovics took this challenge as the source of his inspiration.
The artist showed two works, both of them responses, using appropriate media, to the existing situation. The large-scale plinth-like plaster object, that followed precisely the outline of the room is considered to be a milestone in modern Hungarian sculpture. The other work, which can be regarded as a sound installation, was saved from oblivion by the artist himself almost thirty years later, in 1999, when he delivered a lecture about this exhibition at Artpool in Budapest, in which he referred to the sound installation as “The Best Work of My Life”.
What happened was that Jovánovics “hacked” the national Kossuth Radio news broadcast for the day of his opening by smuggling in an announcement about the exhibition after the domestic and international news reports.
In order to do so, he had to persuade the radio announcers to take part in this dangerous game by producing a fake news broadcast which could then be “aired” at 7 p.m. precisely – simultaneously with the “real” news – in the exhibition space, by means of a customised radio set containing a tape player.
This surprise radio news item took the place of the standard speech at the opening and gave great pleasure to its audience. Only two years after the crushing of the Prague Spring, the until-then merely tolerated work of avant-garde artists was already such a part of the “mainstream” that it could feature on Kossuth Radio news! Of course, this was not true; it was only art that provided this sensation of freedom.
The opening of the 1970 show is evoked by an audio-video installation that forms the central element of the exhibition. This is accompanied by documentation about that opening and about the production of the sculpture. Two drapery reliefs from the 1990s are included in the gallery space as witnesses to Jovánovics’ characteristic sculptural thinking and to replace the long-vanished original plinth-sculpture. Finally, an invited work also forms part of the show: the Czechoslovak Radio 1968 (stereo), made by the artist's friend and colleague Tamás Szentjóby in 1969 (replica: 2015) as a direct allusion to the events in Prague.
Our exhibition is timed to mark the 50th anniversary of 1968. The radio news broadcast presented the kind of events from around the globe that convey the socio-political context of the exhibition: starting with the Hungarian Prime Minister’s visit to Poland, continuing with the fatalities in the ongoing American student protests, and ending with conflicts in the Near East. The white-swathed pentagonal sculpture, as an object placed in real time and space, receives its meaning in combination with this sound installation, which unveils its political significance.
The exhibition is the first in a series designed to present significant points in, and the specific contexts of, the avant-garde art of Central and Eastern Europe. In parallel with the international recognition of the neo-avant-garde of this region and the inclusion of representative works in major museum collections, we consider it important to draw attention to the specific phenomena which nuance the interpretation of the works and which may thus bring us closer to their original meanings.
“The Best Work of My Life” also has much to say to the present day. It takes on a surprising degree of relevance in the current situation, when the concept of fake news has become part of everyday life and is no longer merely the pataphysical instrument of individual freedom but also a means of enemy-creation and cyber warfare.
GYÖRGY JOVÁNOVICS (Budapest, 1939) studied sculpture for two years (1958-1960) at Budapest Academy of Fine Arts, then continued his studies in Vienna and Paris. In 1972 he was accorded the Kassák Prize for avant-garde art, an award founded in Paris by the Magyar Műhely. Between 1980 and 1983 he lived in West Berlin as the recipient of a DAAD grant. From 1990 onwards he was a professor at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts and an invited professor at the Berlin and Salzburg Summer Academy.
From the late 1960s onwards he exhibited together with the so-called Iparterv group of Hungarian neo-avant-garde artists. After his first exhibition at the Adolf Fényes Hall, he had a solo show in 1971 at the Folkwang Museum, Essen. In 1995 he represented Hungary at the Venice Biennale. Other major solo shows: 2004, Ludwig Museum, Budapest; 2016, Vaszary Villa, Balatonfüred. In 2016 he had a solo show at the Mayor Gallery, London and participated in serveral international presentation of Hungarian neo-avant-garde art.
Works in public collections: Hungarian National Gallery, Ludwig Museum – Budapest; Szent István Király Museum – Székesfehérvár; Pécsi Museum; Szombathelyi Képtár; Ludwig Museum – Vienna; Modern Museum – Seoul; Nationalgalerie, Berlinische Galerie -- Berlin; Galerie der Stadt Fellbach; Guggenheim Museum – New York; Tate Modern – London.