Kassákov Museum's Occupation in Eighty Days

written by Željko KIpke

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February 2012 marked the 88th anniversary of the publica­tion of the black and white linocut of Bauhaus orientation by Farkas Molnár in the Hungarian avant-garde magazine Ma, edited by Lajos Kassák (Issue 5 for 1924). The issue was publi­shed in Vienna because its editor had to leave Pest due to poli­tical disputes with the leading supporters of the commu­nist doctrine, and with a few close collaborators he continued his radical artistic activism in a foreign land. The same linocut ended up on the wall of the Kassák Museum in the centre of Budapest’s Óbuda (Old Budim) at the end of January, but in somewhat different circumstances. As a part of the impressive exhibition of avant-garde art owned by Marinko Sudac, along with artwork by Ivana Tomljenović Meller. In the meantime, Hungarian society has removed the dissident stigma from Kassák’s name, and his political, literature and art activism moved to the walls of the nice museum (1976) in the previous palace of the Zichy family. The four-century-old castle served as a military clothes depot for some time in the recent past until 1945. In the same year Farkas’s two-storey Budapest studio was destroyed as a consequence of the January bom­bing, and his tenant was killed by this military action at the end of the Second World War.


The black and white linocut shows the isometric floor plan of a villa and is stylistically close to constructivism, the generally accepted pattern in the 1920s from Russia to Holland and Eastern Eu­rope and the Balkans. This stylistic networking of European avant-garde art between the two wars must have influenced the acquisition strategy of this Croatian collector. This di­rection is also corroborated by the title of the exhibition, ‘Circles of Interference’, used by the Institute for the Research of the Avant-garde’s team in order to leave a strong impression in the premises of the Hungarian museum dedicated to Kassák’s mobility. They wanted this impression because the opportunity is rare to refresh historical works, otherwise pedantically processed and neatly archived, unquestionable at last, of course on the assumption that any new research would only corroborate the existing condition. Little has been left unprocessed in these works; there is almost no more room for manoeuvre. Nevertheless, the new director of this museum, a unique institution in Europe dedicated exclusively to art experiments, claims in the introduction to the exhibition’s catalogue that private initiative may change the view of the past. It is capable of doing so because private collections do not follow research standards, but depend on their owner’s ‘feeling’. A passionate collector is not burdened by clichés. He connects and rese­arches details he finds interesting, so that his attitude to the collected works is almost experimental. In such cir­cum­stances, says Edit Sasvári, old documents are inevitably dusted off, viewpoints are changed and differently illuminated. The di­rector considers collaboration with the Virtual Museum of Avant-garde Art from Croatia a new, activist approach to the old materials in her care. An opportunity to use the network of regional connections to organize a different approach to European modernism. No longer at the level of a national complex or according to the hierarchy of central and peri­pheral artistic events. Just the opposite, she regards them as a network of parallel activities, linked and equally valuable and important regardless of state borders. Similar to the metaphor beginning the name of the private museum in Zagreb (Virtual Museum of Avant-garde Art).


This mu­seum’s team has worked experimentally since the very begi­nning of the idea of a virtual institution, which would actually come to life as a donation to the city of Varaždin. Its owner (Marinko Sudac) and director (Branko Franceschi), as well as occasional and permanent collaborators (from Ješa Denegri and Feđa Vukić to Želimir Koščević) show by their work that historical works may be actively included in daily artistic events. In other words, they corroborate the thesis that the promotion of a complex collection may stand side by side with the events on the contemporary art scene. Only fresh ideas and unusual standpoints are necessary, like the anchoring of Tito’s ship in Rijeka harbour at the beginning of last year. For a full ten days radical artists presented their artwork made as their resistance to socialism and commu­nism. As the collection’s owner said, not to show how the art resistance ‘movement’ at the time of the Iron Curtain to the West had reasons for a spiritual uprising, but to present the network of invisible links between artists who may have not known each other, but definitely used similar language and metaphors. The anchored Galeb was more than a mere symbol of a dictator, his travels and repression. It served as a metaphor – The Arrested Area – to connect various artistic poetics. Dysfunctional as a vessel, but a seemingly modestly designed complex in the spirit of the sixties, attractive as a virtual link between artists from northern Poland to the Adriatic. Jaroslaw Kozlowski, the Polish artist of international fame, who suffered unbelievable repression under the steel boot of the Soviet administration due to his artistic work, happened to be in Rijeka at the time.


The founding of an overseas office in New York, more precisely in Brooklyn, in October last year (2011) was the last move of the Zagreb Institute before visiting the Hungarian castle. On this occasion Branko Franceschi, besides distributing the idea of the ‘invi­sible museum’ to his American audience, also organized an exhibition on the topic of psychedelia in the context of popular music and preconceptual practices in the former Yugoslavia. Most of the materials at the exhibition were borrowed from the Marinko Sudac Collection. The Croatian audience saw the exhibition in Ljubljana’s ŠKUC Gallery, where it moved at the end of December. The critics of the American weekly magazine Village Voice included the exhibition among the top fifteen New York exhibitions of last year. The unending enthusiasm of the Zagreb collector should be also augmented with the comeback project of the Slovenian artistic group OHO. Forty years after its members separated to pursue their own careers. Some went to the Šempasa valley, others to America where they continued developing the doctrine of reism, according to which they easily erased borders between art and daily life. It is a very inspiring doctrine that in the background also dictates the tempo and the strategy of the Zagreb collector of avant-garde art. The Slovenes gathered in the premises of Zagreb’s MSU in the autumn of 2010. The renowned poet and member of OHO, Tomaž Šalamun, stressed the importance of their meeting in this Zagreb institution. Namely, after their exhibition (‘Ancestors’) on Katarina Square in 1969, where this museum used to be, they were invited to New York and a wider audience took notice of their work. 


The recent ‘occupation’ of the Kassák Museum is in the spirit of the Zenitist idea of occupying European territories with new ideas and common interests. As the spokespersons of the new culture used to promote spiritual unity between the two wars, so the Zagreb collector left for the Hungarian capital with a similar task. He went to establish a more active relation­ship between public and private interests. Namely, he learned a lesson from the examples of collaboration between Kassák (Ma) and the magazine (Út) from Vojvodina in exchan­ging materials between the collaborators and collea­gues in Zenit (Ivan Goll, Boško Tokin, Ljubomir Micić) and close collaborators and colleagues of Lajos Kassák (Sándor Barta, Lajos Kudlák, Janos Mácza). In her text for the exhibition the Belgrade art theorist Vidosava Golubović quoted some inte­resting facts about the collaboration of the Balkan and Hun­garian avant-garde. She stated that avant-garde artists from Vojvodina sought contact with the Zenitists via Vienna, which was mediated by Kassák. Then she mentions Farkas Molnár as a very active collaborator in the Vojvodina magazine during 1924. She quoted the name of the Hungarian critic (János Mácza) who supported a wider reception of the magazine Zenit and its collaborators. The same critic managed to include Zenit’s publications in the exhibition ‘Revolutionary Western Arts’ in Moscow in 1926. Almost all publications quoted in this context by the Belgrade theorist are integral parts of the Marinko Sudac Collection and were exhibited in the Hungarian museum until the middle of April. For example, Micić’s publi­cations (Safety Car, Aeroplane without the Motor), the novel and poetry collection by his brother Ve Poljanski (77 Suicides, Panic under the Sun), the novel and poetry collection by Ma­rijan Mikac (The Monkey Phenomenon and The Defect Effect), published issues of Zenit magazine, accompanying pro­mo­tional leaflets and so on. On the other hand, the intention of the Collection was to present almost unknown Croatian authors to a foreign audience and bring them face to face with their colleagues from neighbouring countries. Although they were all active in the period of the ‘artistic Internationale’, their ambition was completely different in direction. For example, Ivana Tomljenović Meller, as a Bauhaus student, par­ti­cipated in the exhibition next to Farkaš Molnár. Unlike her Hungarian colleague, who followed the Weimar artistic doc­trine intensively, she totally neglected her art career for the seductions of daily life. Still, in the constellation of this dy­namic collection and its owner, everything is possible. Even to correct the lack of that ambition – with the note that a similar indifference is not comprehensible to the new ge­ne­rations of artists. The Travellers’ legacy is wonderful ma­terials also in the promotional list for Budapest. Judging from re­cently found collages, photographs and written documents, this lesser-known Zagreb group placed their meetings and travel in the area of art. Therefore, they remained anonymous for almost eight decades, waiting for the right moment and the Collection to present and promote them. This is the recent step towards the Hungarian metropolis. The Plavšić brothers, Čedomil and Dušan, and the unavoidable architect Josip Seissel, then Miho Schön, an aircraft enthusiast who would be killed by one, the somnambulist Vlado Martin Pilar, who would die because of his genetic need for nocturnal walks … they are the unresearched complex of the Croatian artistic scene. They, naturally, initially gravitated towards Zenitist ideas, but due to a kind of ‘artistic negligence’, they displayed new forms of artistic activism very early. And it seems they also foreshadowed, among other things, elements of the ‘Gorgonesque’ strategy in the golden sixties. The Zagreb Travellers paid special attention to photography, albums and collages, that is, to everything similar to the medium of mo­ving pictures, so they could justify their common name for the group in the media. The story of the collector’s ‘feeling’ got its epilogue, finally, by collecting the Travellers’ legacy. The story clearly says that minimal changes in the perception of the past happen because of individuals. By direct engagement, experimental spirit, many travels and contacts, as well as lively collaboration with artists. If not alive, then with the keepers or heirs of wondrous materials. Not by catalogues, strict rules of custodian practices or in the shadow of an inert institution.


Because of the variety of the materials that the Zagreb collector managed to find on his travels through Central and Eastern Europe, every serious exhibition in the region with the theme of the avant-garde art in the 20th century – ending at the beginning of the eighties – must use his collection and borrow representative artwork to validate the premise. The collection grows larger every day, and is relied on by national institutions like Zagreb’s MSU, and even similar institutions in neighbouring countries. It will suffice to mention the recent and not very successful exhibition ‘Socialism and Modernity’ in the Zagreb museum on the other side of the river Sava. If not for the collaboration, the exhibition would have lacked the capital artwork, for example, of the Slovenian group OHO. The Marinko Sudac Collection includes, among other things, rare film tapes, an attractive archive for documentary film authors researching the sixties. The Collection currently in­cludes 20,000 artefacts and documents, and is definitely the leading ‘institution’ of its type in the wider region. The people in the Kassák Museum obviously recognized this potential since they met the owner and the team from the Institute for the Research of the Avant-garde with great excitement in Bu­dapest.