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Exhibition

A WONDERFUL STORY? An Avant-Garde Artist Couple: Erzsi Újvári and Sándor Barta

A WONDERFUL STORY?  An Avant-Garde Artist Couple: Erzsi Újvári and Sándor Barta
Erzsi Újvári and Sándor Barta, Vienna, c. 1920, PLM-Kassak Museum

28 January - 22 May 2022, 00:00

A WONDERFUL STORY?
AN AVANT-GARDE ARTIST COUPLE: ERZSI ÚJVÁRI AND SÁNDOR BARTA

29 January  – 22 May 2022
Opening event: 28 January  2022, 6 pm


This exhibition explores the relation between art and society from the outbreak of the First World War to the end of the 1930s through the life’s work of two lesser known figures of the Hungarian avant-garde, Erzsi Újvári and Sándor Barta. These artists operated at the intersection of fiction and reality, utopia and politics, and art and lifestyle. 

Erzsi Újvári, younger sister of Lajos Kassák, started publishing in her brother’s magazine Ma as a teenager. Her later husband Sándor Barta, a member of the Galilei Circle, joined the activists in the 1910s. Following a heated argument with the “Ma-ists”, he later joined the magazine’s permanent staff. It was during these years that he and Újvári started their poetic careers – and their relationship. They were married in 1919. Over the years since, memories of Barta himself have faded, but his most important poems – Primitive Holy Trinity; Crystal of Time; Moscow; and The First Meeting of the Mad in the Dustbin – are notable products of Hungarian Expressionism and Dadaism and occasionally arouse the interest of literary historians. Újvári has recently come to attention as one of the few women poets of the avant-garde and for her Proses, which gave voice to the struggles of women in the hinterland during the First World War.

The “wonderful story” in the title of the exhibition is a reference to a utopian documentary novel by Sándor Barta; the question mark alludes to the difficulty of understanding the state of affairs that gave rise to their work. The exhibition examines how history shaped the lives of Erzsi Újvári (Kassák’s sister) and her husband Sándor Barta and how their work was informed by contemporary artistic and political affairs, literary and utopian conceptions, the formulation of artistic and social roles, the poetic voice, and opportunities within the institutional system. Erzsi Újvári was originally a worker in a factory that made funeral shrouds, and her story, as presented in the exhibition, touches on several important issues of the time. What were the chances of social mobility for working class people of the time? In a highly hierarchical society, how could a working-class artist get publicity? What was the effect of revolutionary poetry, traditionally a male preserve, when it incorporated the viewpoints of women and children? In another dimension of culture: in what avant-garde forums and in what roles could women have their voices heard? And why do we know so little of their activity today? 

These questions attract our interest because of the way political and social events in the years following the First World War both shaped the work of Hungarian avant-garde writers and artists and determined the course of their lives. Ma continued in exile – in Vienna – in the 1920s, but its outlook and guiding concepts completely changed, and tensions emerged within its editorial group. Divergent ideas about the role of art eventually caused the group to break up. Barta and Újvári left Ma to start up their own magazine, but their subsequent move to the Soviet Union decided the future of their art, and indeed of their lives. 

The recently-purchased archive of the artist couple and documents in the collections of the Petőfi Literary Museum and the Kassák Museum provide clues to understanding this lost world.


Curated by: BAGDI Sára, DOBÓ Gábor, SZEREDI Merse Pál 
Expert: BALÁZS Eszter 
Design: RUDAS Klára


Lending institutions:  Collection of the Braun-Barta Family, Petőfi Literary Museum, Rómer Flóris Art and History Museum – Imre Patkó Collection,  Museum of Fine Arts – Hungarian National Gallery
Reproductions:  Gyula Illyés Archives, Collection of Nimród Kovács,  National Széchényi Library,  Austrian National Library, Petőfi Literary Museum,  Museum of Fine Arts – Hungarian National Gallery 

Special thanks: BRAUNNÉ BARTA Katalin, BRAUN-BARTA Zsófia, KÁCSOR Adrienn, KÁLMÁN C. György, SCHILLER Erzsébet, TELLER Katalin

PRESS KIT


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