The Bauhaus Exhibition of Prodigal Posterity

Hungarians in the Bauhaus, Janus Pannonius Museum, Pécs, 08. 15–10. 24., 2010

Text: György Szegő

Molnár Farkas: Vörös kockaház, 1922-23, makett: Pelényi Margit, 2009

Hungarian Bauhäuslers at home – the adjective itself right away raises the question: who are these Hungarians actually? International in character, the school was born at the time of the disintegration of historic Hungary, leaving a large number of artists outside the frontiers all of a sudden. After the shock caused by the war many of them turned to the Bauhaus which was to form a basis of European culture wishing to renew itself. Seven of these artists were from Pécs facing disannexation threatening Baranya county and/or Pécs. The joint German–Hungarian exhibition is a great chance, the venture itself is large-scale, but also a lopsided one because of the forcedly ungenerous exhibition site: this is the paradox of a prodigal posterity. In a worthy medium in Berlin (December 1st, 2010–February 21st, 2011) this stop-gap exhibition shall most probably be even more sensational.

Last year, on the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the Bauhaus its universal emanation earned it the title „one of the cradles of the united Europe”. Hungarian participants include three teachers: Moholy-Nagy, Breuer and Berger Otti, and 22 students: Zsuzsa Bánki, Irén Blüh, Lajos Tarai (Čačinović), Etel Fodor, Pál Forgó (Fröchlich), Hugó Johan, Judit Kárász, Zsuzsanna Leppien, Ernő Lichtenthal, Farkas Molnár, Zsuzsa Markos (Ney), Gyula Pap, István Sugár (Schwarz), Henrik Stefán (Szelle), Margit Téry (Adler), Tibor Weiner, Andor Weininger, the Transylanian Saxon-Hungarian Georgina Geuberger, Henrik Neugeboren and Ida Thal, from Vajdaság (in the south of historic Hungary) Miklós Müller and István Zádor. The list of Hungarians known to have contributed to the Bauhaus is completed by the Transylvanian Ernő Kállai editing the Bauhaus journal, and Sándor Bortnyik, also from Transylvania, who was an independent painter establishing later on a school of his own in Pest, Alfréd Forbát (Füchsl) from Pécs, who went to work for Gropius’ team and István Sebők from Szolnok.
They had dramatic destinies: Bánki and Berger died in Auschwitz, Sebők was killed in Moscow. Molnár died in Hungary after being deadly wounded in the war. The Jewish-born Breuer, Moholy-Nagy and Weiniger died in the USA, Forbát in Sweden, Etel Fodor in South Africa, Neugeboren in Paris, Stefán – being a Swabian – was relocated to Germany. Many of them emigrated to remote places all over the world and only a minority lived to be neglected in Hungary after World War II being forced into inner emigration. Some of them chose it so that they could work and even fewer could refute that by today experimental art as such has been forced to live a diaspora life. The school itself could only exert its influence indirectly in the dictatorial regimes formed later on as its spirit was „leftish” for the Nazis and „middle-class” for the Communists.
With a more positive approach the lives of the artists may be interpreted as follows: the Bauhaus-Modern is a new language created by emigrants to replace their lost mother tongues. According to the list provided by trustees this is the „language school” that György Kepes, Vasarely and Imre (Amerigo) Tóth attended among others.
The exhibition embracing several hundreds of works of art (especially those of fine arts) proves that Hungarian artists of the Bauhaus played a key role in culturally establishing today’s European Union, shaping the character of the modern world – whether it is liked or not. Of works by Breuer we can see here the Wassily tubular steel chair inspired by a bicycle frame as well as the teasing women’s dressing table. The latter evokes the Light-Space modulator by Moholy-Nagy, the reconstruction designs of which were made by István Sebők in 1930. Important works by Sebő displayed at the Schirn/Frankfurt Moholy-Nagy exhibition are missing now but it is much of a surprise to see here the designs of the theatre in Győr. Epochal theatre designs by Weininger are exhibited according to their rank – the model of the Kügel Theater was constructed by Margit Pelényi and Miklós Szabó (just like those of other houses) especially for this occasion. The mechanical stage, pieces of scenic music by Weininger as well as „form-producing plays” narrated in stage situation by Gyula Pap and Vilmos Huszár also strengthen the stage section. To efficiently illustrate correlations, works by Bortnyik are displayed in a separate room – much in the same way as an entire unit in the minor exhibition building of Janus Pannonius Museum was devoted to the early years of Pécs Artists’ Circle. Here there are genuine architectural sensations such as three Futuristic mausoleum designs by Lajos Tarai (Čačinović): they appear as earlier „versions” of Scarpa’s tomb design preceding them by 40 years. Works by the artists’ circle of Kassák made in Vienna and Budapest are also flashed as the antecedents of Bauhaus. The Red House by Farkas Molnár had already been displayed at the first contemporary Bauhaus exhibition presenting the impetus of activists as an unruly kind of architecture. Everyone had genres in mind back in those days, it was Hungarian students who proposed to have a separate section of architects as they were experimenting with „what and how an architect should study”. And at last, the temporary proposal that bus tours are organized twice every week to visit the houses designed by Forbát still existing in Pécs is even more tangible and self-evident than models.
The task trustees Éva Bajkay, Annamarie Jaeggi and György Várkonyi had to undertake was made impossible by ECC (Europena Cultural Capital) Pécs due to the ungenerous and wasteful gesture of choosing the location. The exhibition hall planned to be one of the main projects of ECC had not been completed. That would be suited to present the topic with a different set of instructions and more ambitious visual concept than here in the zigzagging row of spaces amongst JPM dwelling houses in Káptalan Street. The primal debate generated apropos of the possible focuses of ECC Pécs had already lost sight of the fact that Bauhaus does not mean trench war at present – it should mean the values of a recognized tradition (this sort of historic approach now also holds true for Modernism as such much in the same way as for the anti-avantgarde, typically Hungarian Neo-Baroque and Neo-Classicist painting and architecture of Árkádia). It is only „delayed development” and the contrast of vernacular-urban opposition that prevents us from fair judgement. The unavoidable conclusion of peace is also hindered by the commitment of the movement to avantgarde… The co-existence of arts had already asserted itself in Itten’s school in a similar way, just like in Mathildenhöhe and Gödöllő. The naive reviewer however, has the feeling that it is yet another missed opportunity: Pécs could have realized now a permanent Bauhaus exhibition and research basis within the framework German-Hungarian cooperation of this scale. The archives in Berlin was the joint (!) production of the two German states in 1986…
A positive fact: being an organic part of the visual image of the exhibition, the 420-page catalogue designed by Zsolt Czakó is a genuine masterpiece including 20 studies and 450 illustrations. The same holds true for the film made by Károly Kismányoki on the Bauhaus in Pécs. Despite the difficulties described above the evocation of Bauhäuslers from Pécs is a large-scale and high-standard one. It may also help us to finally take the warning advice by Simone Weil: „Let us learn to appreciate what we have.”