Resurgence and Rejection
Lajos Kassák’s self-financed exhibition in the Fényes Adolf Hall in Budapest
Lajos Kassák’s exhibition in the Fényes Adolf Hall in 1967 was to be the last exhibition during the lifetime of that emblematic figure of the historic avant-garde in Hungary. It also serves as a window into the emergence of self-financed exhibitions at that time. There were two mutually contradictory phenomena connected with Kassák and his art in the sixties: resurgence and rejection. Mounting demands for Kassák’s art to be put on show were set against the banishment of such exhibitions to the periphery. Rejection weighed heavily on Kassák as a painter. The contradictions typified by this simultaneous resurgence and rejection beset all kinds of intellectual accomplishment in the Kádár era, and more accurately characterise the period than the – nowadays somewhat worn-out – concept of the “ban”.
After 1956, the cultural authorities’ relations with artists and cultural intellectuals were decidedly cool. At its simplest, the development of cultural relations in the 1960s, after reaching a low point in 1957, may be described as a gradual widening of dialogue or attempts at dialogue, with both the authorities and those involved in cultural life putting out feelers to each other at varying levels of intensity. They sought a broader set of partners, on one side in the hope of a more rewarding pursuit of culture, and on the other in hope of justification. This process continued to unfold until the events of 1968, after which it stagnated and began to deteriorate. Set against this simple schema, Kassák’s exhibition in 1967 took place as optimistic dialogue was reaching its peak. But even in that brightest phase of compromise-seeking between the system and the cultural sphere, there was to be no prestigious, publicly-funded life’s-work exhibition for Kassák; only a modest, ‘off-site’ self-financed show in the Fényes Adolf Hall.
This extended period brought extended scope to the category of ‘tolerated art’. The regime could not – or did not want to – maintain its division into friends and enemies. By the end of the period, the passively-tolerated category had completely displaced the active, judgemental thrust of cultural policy and with the emergence of the self-financing exhibition system it became firmly established.