EDIT SASVÁRI
EDIT SASVÁRI | Art historian, director of the Kassák Museum since 2010. She has degrees in Hungarian Language and Literature and History from Janus Pannonius University, Pécs, and in History of Art from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. She studied museum management in the Institut für Kulturwissenschaft, Vienna. She completes her PhD in the Interdisciplinary Doctoral School of the Department of Modern History, University of Pécs, where her thesis will be examined in 2014. She has been working in the museum field since 1988, and her main areas of research are historical modernism and the avant garde, and cultural political aspects of art in the 1960s. The OAD asked her about the future plans of the museum and the goals of current avant-garde research.
What is the Kassák Museum’s mission, and what are its plans for the forthcoming period?
The Kassák Museum was originally envisaged as a commemorative museum, of the kind which preserves and maintains the oeuvre of a single great artist. Lajos Kassák (1887–1967) was a writer, artist and cultural leader, and one of the most original figures of the Hungarian avant-garde. The museum was set up in a small part of the Zichy Palace in Óbuda in 1976 specifically to preserve and research Kassák’s legacy and present it to the public. From the beginning, however, it has been much more than a house of commemoration tending a static collection, and has attempted to function as a dynamic, living museum. To do so, it has built on Kassák’s position as a prime mover in the history of Hungarian art and an internationally-renowned figure of historic modernism and the avant-garde. This opens up connections with many developments in the international history of modern art. What the museum has been through during its thirty-five years of existence, and the problems of evaluating and presenting Kassák during that time, now present themselves as promising lines of research.
In 2010, when my colleagues and I started work in the Kassák Museum, we formulated a new conception based around three main objectives: 1. to explore the diverse Kassák subject matter in the context of modernism and historic avant-garde utopias through a series of exhibitions; 2. to exhibit contemporary artists whose outlook resonates with Kassák’s organisational and artistic activities in wider society (especially those engaged in today’s socially critical art); 3. and – by performing these functions to a high standard – to become a prominent centre for other Kassák-research in the region and an active participant in international modernism research. An important part of our work is putting over the contemporary outlook towards both historical themes and current artistic phenomena. In our approach to Kassák’s work and the whole range of avant-garde issues, we attempt to go beyond the aesthetic perspective and take in the broad social context. We are very interested in the problems of museum presentation of avant-garde art.
What challenges face a Central-Eastern European museum presenting avant-garde art in the 21st century?
The collection and curation of avant-garde art presents many challenging issues to museologists. The avant-garde is incorporated into the national construction of art in most Central and Eastern Europe countries, as is evident in the permanent exhibitions of national galleries in the region. This is problematic in two ways: firstly because 20th century modernism had a fundamentally international character, and secondly because national outlooks went through several crises and transformations during the 20th century. Whereas internationalism endowed modernism with an unmatched vigour, conceptions of 19th-century nation/state/culture went through a series of crises from the First World War until European integration. All this took has implications for how culture is to be handled. In nearly every country of the region, modernism and the avant-garde unfolded with remarkable sovereignty and diversity, but they remain side issues in each national culture. The fundamental question is whether this is a historically closed chapter, a final outcome, or whether the face of Eastern European national cultures can yet be redrawn to include modernism/avant-garde in more than a subsidiary role.
What was the objective behind setting up the Online Avant-Garde Database (OAD), and how does it connect to the activity of the Kassák Museum?
When we were drawing up the new concept for the museum in 2010, our starting point was to look on modernism as a period in the past. A closed period has to be interpreted and re-interpreted in Hungarian and international perspectives, and that needs new research, with regional collaboration. In the first round in 2011, we brought together researchers in the field from the countries of the region and proposed that the museum take a role in channelling research information and results. The outcome of this, the OAD, was set up as a collecting point for research in the region. But it goes further than that, and uses the technical capabilities of web2 to generate a dynamic exchange of information and experience among researchers. The mission of the OAD is to share a broad range of information among researchers in the democratic spirit of modernism and avant-gardism.
Text © 2014 Edit Sasvári | OAD / Photo © 2014 OAD