"Simonyi - Papierskulpturen · Papírszobrok · Paper sculptures · Plastiche in carta",
Kunstverein Rosenheim - Budapest Galerie, 2000

Migrant art

It is a specific question of art history - traditionally the assemblage of national schools - where the work of artists not living inside the country belong to. Do we write Hungarian art history here, or the history of art in Hungary? If the former, does it cover any Hungarian artist no matter where he/she lives? If the latter, are we only interested in what is done inside Hungary, by anyone?
It is of course not compulsory to think in terms of national art history, for art is said to be universal and modernism international. Yet the local is still valid, as even the monographs of most current phenomena reveal. They include the ones about new expressionism, which is confirmed not only by the different regional names of the style but by the importance ascribed to it by authors (such as Donald Kuspit and Irving Sandler of America) who are farthest removed from a national approach.
The history of art in the 20th century does abound in artists who had to leave their homelands, because of revolutions, dictatorships, imposed isolation or simply peripheral existence. It is well know how many artists left Hungary around 1970. Their lifepaths are all individual, not being united by emigration. László Lakner, Emö Simonyi, Endre Tót live in Germany, but that is all they share in common. Moreover, the '70s witnesses a migratory state of genres and branches of art ("border cases") among themselves. In this general migration, several art types emerged that can be transported, as letters, ideas, parcels, without the precaution required by customary art objects, or can be produced on the spot, with local validity. (These alternatives of art objects also expressed a protest against art trade.)
Back in those days, something else was Emö Simonyi's concern. She worked as a graphic artist (in the Quintet group in Budapest, and she had hardly graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts when she won the Best design of the year award in London (1968) on which she could build a career of design in Germany. In spite of all that, she won the grand prix of the city of Munich as a painter in 1988 and she has been the savage painter of new expressionism ever since, in a style attracting few female practitioners but based decisively on drawing from its beginning. That is also why the style is labelled the style of minorities (regions, genders, genres, representational types such as figurativity) in that it has brought to bear personal experience everywhere, and that is why this style present everywhere can be called universal (as Gerard Xuriguera does).
German savage painting, as the jealousy of the westernmore regions earlier pace-setting in art makes them claim, already emerged in the '70s with the intention of rehabilitating German consciousness. Had it been no more than that, how could several East-Central European artists have become active participants in it? Isn't it rather the common Central European experience of the iron curtain and the Berlin Wall that has been released from the bottle with elementary force? Isn't it quite understandable that instead of art under the protection of the dictatorship in Hungary, Hungarian experiences also took shape in divided Germany's art in search of its own identity, in a web mutually interlaced with secret police and terrorists?
Living in Germany since 1971, Emö Simonyi translated doubled experiences into pictures when in the early '80s she "discovered" painting, with the sensuous euphoria of discovery swinging her pictures off being stuck in the concrete historical situation, as Julia Fabényi had analysed earlier (Dialogue, Ernst Museum, 1992, catalogue). Though in Hungarian art it was she who formulated the Central European nightmare, the horror of the crime against civilization, the works are themselves universal visions of dances macabres. Her monumental wrestling human monsters with twisted bodies, devouring one another, are heralds of an all-round civilizational disaster, which we in Hungary perhaps overlooked but which was also conveyed in pictures by another Hungarian artist, Tibor Csernus living in Paris. They must be then the most natural links between Hungarian and international arts.
Simonyi's picture creation is personal. But the intimacy of a picture does not merely depend on the ratio between reality and its echo as subjective experience. To make a subjective picture, you must let its own nature assume itself (material, technique, tools, etc.). Emö Simonyi's art seems to progress along this course. Her figural paintings rampant with intensely dynamic, lively and characteristic figures have transformed into figures assembled from body parts painted on foldable cardboard boxes. The nature of her pictoriality is animation, lifelikeness, but she deconstructs the figurative picture to trace it back to its magic roots. That entails objectifying: the body parts assume space and perspective through the boxes, and live their own lives governed by a peculiar anatomy. That is how the full figures become enlivened, subjective: totems or golems.
While art inside Hungary also shows up similar creatures (the paper works of József Gaál and József Szurcsik), Emö Simonyi's creations are typical migrant works. Like a showman with his side-show, she can set them up anywhere. While she assembles or pulls down her creations, she also generates the question of the great illusionists: what is indeed reality, what is art? The answers change by age and accumulated knowledge. Today, our knowledge says reality consists of particles that are parcels of energy incessantly in motion. No stable objects exist - they are illusory. That's like Simonyi's works. They are real, but when they get into exhibiting spaces for a few weeks, they become petrified, they turn into illusion? Into art in the conventional sense? At any rate, they only display one state, one manifestation, which will vanish. As reality does.
Art history also changes by ages. Complying with the specificities of the discipline, it tries to stabilize certain states, but always highlights new cohering forces, pointing out their significance and preserving them for remembrance. Emö Simonyi and Hungarian/Central European migrant art is a fact of art history. We have been preoccupied with similar facts for many decades. It is only up to the cohering force of the discipline to prevent the realities of our art history from vanishing in thin air.

         Katalin Keserü