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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

Ever since I saw Andy Warhol’s rendition of a tin of Campbell’s soup in the San Francisco MoMA, modern art has confounded me. For the most part, my singular lack of appreciation for modern art doesn’t come between me and my sleep. I know what I like, and, better still, I know what I don’t like. Yet I was struck again by this inability to ‘get it’ when I stumbled across the Common Ground Exhibit in New York a couple of weeks ago.
In yet another attempt to understand where I’m going wrong, I consulted the great minds that have gone before me: Napoleon’s A picture is worth a thousand words. Yes, and most of them are unprintable. Oscar Wilde’s A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. That I can identify with – if unique is a polite way of saying ‘completely bonkers’. Albert Camus’ A guilty conscience needs to confess. A work of art is a confession. Isn’t that what confessionals are for? Van Gogh’s
If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. And you can still keep them in your attic!  Finally, I hit on Aristotle’s The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. Now we’re getting somewhere. Inward significance.
But how to find the inward significance of this giant ketchup bottle (2001) by Paul McCarthy? According to the New York Times, ‘Mr McCarthy’s ketchup bottle, aligned with the dome of City Hall, makes a kind of Neo-Pop-psychoanalytic connection between patriarchy and power, with Mr Bloomberg playing the role of a creepy authoritarian rather than a benevolent daddy.’ Now I ask you, how would I ever have come to that conclusion on my own? How many years of education would I have needed to recognise the significance of this piece? What would I have needed to have experienced in my life so far to make that giant ketchup bottle more than just a giant ketchup bottle?
Christian Jankowski’s granite slab was more up my street. This I could get. Or so I thought. A simple expression of the artist’s wish to be buried ‘somewhere on common ground’.  The inward significance in this case is very much mirrored in the inscription. A case of it being what it is and no more. And I checked with the New York Times… and I got this one right!
In Thomas Schütte’s Memorial for an Unknown Artist (2011), I can see the angst of not being recognised. The frustration of no-one knowing your worth. The tragedy of great talent remaining undiscovered. The hands-to-head feverish clutching seems vaguely familiar. Do I recognise it as something I have experienced myself? Is this inward significance thing more about my innards than those of the artist or the art form? Do I feel as though my talent is unrecognised? Am I hiding my light under the proverbial bushel? Sweet Mother of Divine Jesus… do I need therapy?
Stop! Enough! Give it up, Mary, and admit that you have neither the wherewithal nor  the inclination to be arty. So most of it goes over your head… that’s not a bad thing. Just think of the damage it might do if it actually got into your head!
‘Common Ground’ continues through Nov. 30 at City Hall Park, Park Row and Chambers Street; (212) 223-7800, publicartfund.org