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Imagining a movement: Ma in Budapest

Imagining a movement: Ma in Budapest

23 September 2016 - 15 January 2017

Vernissage: 23 September 2016, 6 pm
Opening speech: Eszter Balázs historian

The journal Ma and its circle appeared in Hungarian cultural life in the Budapest of the First World War and the Revolutions, between 1916 and 1919, as the real institutional embodiment of an imaginary movement. Lajos Kassák and his fellow-artists regarded themselves as the creators of a ‘new culture’ whose ideology they transmitted through more than just issuing manifestoes. They set out to create a new and multifaceted institution. Through a presentation of four themes, the exhibition explores the cultural and social ambitions of Kassák and his circle and the communication techniques by which they attempted to mark out their position in the Hungarian artistic scene in the early twentieth century.

Seeking precursors and creating a context

The Hungarian avant-garde is usually looked on as an attempt to break with the past. Kassák and his associates oratorically proclaimed the death of traditions, but they quite often also talked of movements that could be continued or at least revised. There were two reasons why the Ma circle displayed attachment to old and new artistic phenomena: firstly, by pointing to precursors that were important to them, they could legitimize their presence and their ambitions in the intellectual milieu of Hungary, and secondly, by marking out a certain cultural context, they could orient the public towards an appropriate interpretation of the art of Ma.

The self-definition of the Ma group

The artists grouped around the magazine regarded themselves as members of a movement, and not merely as authors. This was a mentality that set Ma apart from other Hungarian journals and brought it much closer to the foreign avant-garde magazines of the time. The ultimate message of presenting Ma as a movement was that the artistic conception and worldview of the magazine’s contributors rendered them capable of changing the order of artistic life in Hungary and, in the long term, of having an influence on social issues.

Ma as an institution

Emphasizing the group character of the Ma circle were statements, manifestoes and articles described as ‘collective’ and usually signed by every member of the ‘movement’. The visuality of the magazine and its associated publications and posters also radiated this coherence. To evolve into a true institution gradually emerged as the true goal of Ma. Kassák launched a programme of communication that embraced a broad range of public channels available at time. He and his associates set up a publishing house, a gallery and a free school, and organized public performances. Another novelty in Kassák’s vision was his wish to create an alternative system of institutions modelled on ‘companies formed to make a profit’ so that avant-garde artists could have their own independent forum.

Politics and the avant-garde

Ma initially appeared with the subtitle ‘literary and artistic journal’. As it shifted towards politics and the avant-garde, the subtitle changed in 1918 to ‘activist artistic and social journal’. The Kassák circle reacted vigorously to the revolutionary changes and interpreted them as political acts. In spring 1919, it defined its own activity as activism. The Ma circle had sharply divergent relations with the two successive revolutionary authorities of 1918 and 1919. The group was critical of the bourgeois democracy led by Mihály Károlyi almost from the start, but had a direct influence on the cultural policy of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, partly from official positions. For Kassák and his associates, it was evident that activists had to create the lyrical and visual idiom of the art of the ‘new world’ that would follow the proletarian revolution. This engendered confrontation with the communist leadership, who – like previous critics – attacked the avant-garde for its ‘unintelligibility’. The exhibition follows the dispute chronologically and in all of its complexity.

The exhibition is part of a series by the Kassák Museum to present Lajos Kassák’s avant-garde journals. The first, entitled Signal to the World: War ∩ Avant-Garde ∩ Kassák
The present exhibition also draws on contemporary sources, mostly from the Kassák Museum’s own collection, to present the working of ‘Budapest Ma’ in the context of the First World War and the revolutions that followed. It has a different focus from the previous exhibition, however, just as Ma had a different profile from A Tett. For A Tett, we compared the magazine’s anti-militarist output with the documents of the mainstream ‘culture of war’, but for Ma, we explore an attempt at institutionalizing a partly imaginary and partly actual avant-garde artistic movement. 

Curated by: Gábor Dobó and Merse Pál Szeredi
Exhibition design: Klára Rudas
Graphic design: Áron Kútvölgyi-Szabó
Research consultant: Márton Pacsika
Communication: Anna Juhász, Boglárka Kőrösi
English translation: Alan Campbell

Research assistants: Sára Bagdi, Kata Benedek, Krisztina Csaba, Dániel Fuhl, Judit Galácz, Magdolna Gucsa, Gábor Hanzelik, Eszter Márkus, Péter Miksó, Dániel Veress, Zsuzsanna Zsuró

The vernissage is supported by Brigád (Mór).

The exhibition is supported by the First World War Centenary Memorial Committee.

PIM Kassák Museum is a branch museum of Petőfi Literary Museum. >>
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