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Art of the Underground

JZI have a fondness for statues. I can talk to them for hours. I used to visit József Attila quite often a few years ago when life took me back and forth through Kossuth Lajos tér on a regular basis. I would sit with him a while and chat away about life in general and relationships in particular. He’s a great listener and perhaps that’s where the attraction lies – having someone to listen, without interruption, someone with no great desire to find a solution to my problem or to fix whatever ails me. Sometimes I just want to vent, to be heard.

LPOf course, with Jószef Attila, there was the added attraction that I knew the hand and mind that created the sculpture ‒ the late, great Marton László (who also created the Little Princess statue that sits on a railing by the Danube). I sat with him a couple of times, smoking cigarettes and drinking palinka, neither of us understanding what the other was saying; his English was on par with my Hungarian. He made me chicken soup once, too, when I was sick – the best chicken soup I’ve ever had. He was a lovely, lovely man whose genius is immortalised in his work in cities and towns around the country and much farther afield than Hungary. I thought of him this week when I passed by the Four Seasons and saw the new installation in the grass outside. I wondered what he’d make of it.

RI This giant statue ‒ Feltépve (Ripped up) ‒ a temporary exhibition as part of Art Market Budapest, shows a man crawling out from underneath a carpet of grass as if he’d come from the bowels of the Earth. His eyes shut, his mouth open, he looks as if he’s trying to break free. The polystyrene sculpture by artist Hervé-Loránth Ervin is something to behold. I have no idea what he had in mind but can well imagine that given whatever particular humour I’m in, this work could keep me awake at night (being the stuff that nightmares are made of) or could inspire me on to greater things, were I to think a little more about what escape and freedom could mean.

SoupThat’s the beauty of art, isn’t it? It’s all about perception. Aristotle said that ‘the aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.’ Try as I might, though, the inward significance of some art eludes me. The success of Andy Warhol is, for me, one of the great mysteries of the modern age. I remember seeing his soup thingy at MOMA in San Francisco and wondering what all the hullabaloo was about. I simply didn’t (and still don’t) get it.

Picasso was of the mind that the purpose of art is to wash ‘the dust of daily life off our souls’. And this I can relate to. I couldn’t tell a Monet from a Manet and while I have occasionally given thought to taking an art appreciation class, I wonder if it can really be taught. I know what I like and what I don’t like; it’s more about what the piece says to me than what I see. And I suppose I could apply that to Warhol’s can of soup which might well be the embodiment of home and comfort and nourishment. But does art need an explanation?

This latest addition (albeit a temporary one) to Budapest’s vast array of statues and sculptures is a welcome one, as is anything that gets me thinking. Catch it while you can.

First published in the Budapest Times 24 October 2014

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