Inconnu Art Group. State security photos of a banned exhibition
The exhibition entitled “A harcoló város/The Fighting City, 1986” was organized by the amateur artist group Inconnu to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. The police banned the event on the opening day and destroyed the artworks. However, before that, an agent took photos of the compositions. Thus, the secret police itself created, through the act of destruction, a group of sources which is today the single visual trace of the exhibition. This photo collection is kept in the Historical Archives of the Hungarian State Security Forces (Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltára – ÁBTL).
Budapest Eötvös utca 7, Hungary 1067
State security photos about the banned exhibition of Inconnu
Originea colecției și activitățile culturale reprezentate
The Inconnu artist group was founded in Szolnok. In the early 1980s, it was active in Budapest. The group became famous for their alternative, oppositional artist and political actions. The members at the beginning were Mihály Csécsei, Tamás Molnár, Bánk Mészáros, Mihály Sipos, and Péter Bokros. Later, Róbert Pálinkás, Tibor Philipp, Magdolna Serfőző, and Miklós Kovács joined the group. Their performances, which had direct political implications, were held in the mid-1980s, parallel with the initiatives of the democratic opposition. In 1986, they issued an international fine arts tender for the organization of an exhibition on the 30th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. The political police continuously discouraged and hampered the preparatory work. In the end, the opening day was held on 30 January 1987.
The police confiscated and destroyed the artworks which had been submitted by the artists. The catalogue, however, includes information concerning the artists and their works, but the works themselves “survived” only “thanks” to the photographic documentation done by the police. This documentation is the only record of the compositions, which formed a collection the items of which had been selected according to an exhibition conception. According to a report, these photos had already been taken at the beginning of January by an agent who had the code name Frederich, and he gave them to his case officer. So the police had the photos several weeks before the opening.
Inconnu was not unknown in 1986 to the secret police. The members of the group were under close observation. Because of the investigation and the harassment they endured at the hands of the authorities, they moved from Szolnok to Budapest. In the capital, they joined the democratic opposition, so the police continued to keep them under observation. Inconnu reflected on this in their works. For example, one of their issues summarized one proceeding against the group, when their works were smashed by the police. So they had direct experience of the crude means used by the police.
On the 30th anniversary of the Revolution, the officers of Department III of the Ministry of Home Affairs had to be more alert. The problem, of course, concerning the presentation and nurturing of the memory of the revolution, which was taboo in the Kádár era.
In August 1986, the call for submissions for “The Fighting City” was published in the American newspaper The New York Review of Books, the Hungarian Literary Gazette in Paris, and the Hungarian samizdat Demokrata. An announcement was made on Radio Free Europe, as well. György Krassó also helped the group. He lived in London at the time.
The Hungarian participants were able to submit their works to the organizers in person, but foreign artists had to use the postal service. This was problematic, because items sent by post were checked by the police, and some works were confiscated. Meanwhile, Tamás Molnár and Péter Bokros were summoned by the police and were threatened: if they organized the exhibition, they would be banned from Budapest. The group published an announcement of the events, and they listed the works which had already arrived and modified the deadline.
Finally, the police confiscated the items which had been chosen for exhibition in Tibor Philipp’s flat a few hours before the opening. According to the police report, the exhibition was a “counterrevolutionary,” “internal, hostile act.” 43 items, including photos, drawings, paintings, and other artefacts and illegal press items (an additional 39 items) were confiscated and later destroyed.
As art historian György Sümegi wrote in an essay, “The Fighting City” was a political act and a brave artistic gestures. The exhibition was unique in many ways. First, it was the only international exhibition on the Revolution of 1956. Naturally, numerous artefacts were created about the revolution, but none of the artists or groups undertook to organize a public exhibition of these materials. Second, we know of no other example when an exhibition was banned and the works destroyed. According to Sümegi, the officers did not regard the collection of artworks as a real exhibition because of the unusual installation (the pictures were put on paper matboard instead of in frames). So perhaps they made this irreversible decision more easily. This fact is mentioned in the police documentation, but the appearance of the artworks was not in fact the real problem. The goal was to intimidate the oppositional groups and the artists.In Tibor Philipp’s apartment, the police records were put on the wall in the place of the exhibited artworks. This created a “visual absurd act.” The exhibition, the works of which in fact had vanished (or rather been destroyed), was opened by philosopher Sándor Radnóti. Sociologist Ottilia Solt said that the income would have given to the Foundation for the Provision of Support for the Poor (SZETA). Finally, the Inconnu manifesto was read, in which the group immediately offered a reply to the acts of the police.
The agent who went by the code name Frederich took photos of the works in the exhibition entitled “A harcoló város/The Fighting City, 1986” in January 1987, before the compositions were destroyed. He gave the photos to his case officer. They are the only surviving source on the basis of which we can reconstruct this unique exhibition about the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
The Hungarian artists’ works were mostly original, the items submitted from abroad were mostly copies, reproductions, and mail art works. They were sent by post, and because of this, they were checked by the political police. The largest number of items was submitted by Ágnes Háy. She lived in London, and she copied drawings from her drawing booklet. One of these pictures was used on the invitation card and poster for the exhibition.These works included genre paintings, figures of the revolution, people fighting, people who had been injured, a mother with her child, the pictures of the terror, and military vehicles. Other images were not so concrete. Rather, they were signs and symbols: a map of Hungary, the figure of liberty behind closed bars, and barbed wire fence. Montages and collages were also made. Some of the works, mostly those composed by artists in Hungary, contained text. Péter Bokros made an installation. The pictures were not put in a frame but rather on paper matboard with the label “the fighting city” in the upper left corner.
- fotografii: 10-99
Acoperirea geografică actuală
Evenimente importante în istoria colecției
Tipul de acces
- accesibil cu permisiune
vagy 4-5 éve egy francia művészettörténész barátnőm, Juliane Debouscher az OSA ösztöndíjasaként (ma két kisfiú anyjaként a Barcelona Egyetem művészeti fakultásán tanít) kutatta az Inconnu történetét egyebek közt segítségemmel az ÁBTL-ben is + interjúkat készített a fiúkkal, majd egy igen tartalmas és eredeti tanulmányt publikált főként a 'harcoló város" háttér-történeténetétől egy francia folyóiratban.
Ha kell a pontos címleírása netán ide - igazán nem árt a nemzetközi referencia - szívesen elkérem tőle.
Autorul(ii) acestui articol
- Huhák, Heléna
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Müller, Rolf, interview by Huhák, Heléna, November 29, 2017. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection