The Constructed Imagination
About Antal Vásárhelyi’s works
- Gaál Imre Gallery, Pesterzsébet, 5-22nd 2012
- New Kriterion Gallery, Csíkszereda, 13th 04 – 10th 06 2012
- Artistic Move Europe, Sochaux, Association Culturelle Franco-Hongroise, 10-29th 06 2012
“Space and space again: it is the infinite divinity, which surrounds us.”
Max Beckman: Lecture about painting (1938)
Antal Vásárhelyi had the possibility to arrange three solo exhibitions one after the other in the first half of this year. What is more, the three different exhibition rooms are located in three different countries, in determining points of Europe, each of them having very diverse particularities. Therefore, the coherent, compact oeuvre interconnected the art scenes of the East and the West in a given period, the essence of which, according to the above quotation by Beckman, is space. The substance and determinative element of the presently 62-year-old master’s career of more decades is the system of spatial architectures in the plane of the picture, the rigorous and the same time variant representation of the human-made spatial structures about man’s existence in different surfaces of drawings, prints and canvases. The self-definition can be understood for the first hearing, though it is surprising, that he considers his art cultural anthropology. Actually, the three exhibitions gave an overall insight to the different periods of Vásárhelyi’s way of thinking about art, way of seeing the world and his creative method, while both the old and new connections and diversities to spotlight.
The artist deals with the representation of space, with its lessons of thousands of years and multicultural tradition. His works riot in paradoxes, which give the spectator a sort of self-evident experience of perfection. “In my works I am looking for the eternal permanence, the eternal home, the cosmic joy of final resignation. Certainly, I never get it, but in consequence of this fact I continuously search for the labyrinth system trailing to the universe. (…) Such a moral and rational taming of emotional exaltation can be seen and enjoyed in my pictures.”
The origins of Antal Vásárhelyi’ art are seemingly means-like, however the layers of interpretation are complex and rich in imagination (the great predecessors in this matter are from many sources: Holbein, Magritte, Dali, Escher, or Piranesi and Chirico). The artist starts from the standard elements of
picture-making, equally in the concrete and figurative sense of the word, and this way he limits and traces out his own world of vision, and gives “space” to associations and the emergence of visual prolificacy. In his case this is the reason why the individual, the personal cannot be traced, unless in the fundaments of fine arts and architecture. His reduction predominates in the line,
in the geometrical precision, in the duality of geometrical and perspective representation of space. However, the picture-architectural thinking does not get dried and soulless in his works. The result is duplex: rigorous and surreally discursive.
Turner, teaching the science of perspective in the Royal Academy of Arts, summarized his opinion this way: perspective is suitable for the expression of roominess, measure and space. Perspective, in connection with Vásárhelyi’s pictures, is the key-word, just like line, but, far from the dominance of abstraction, while – as several of his art critics declared in details – his original and multiplied graphical works, paintings, the urban architectural and architectural historical fragments, vedutas and the joining playful illusions and misrepresentations are exciting games. Besides, drama, the poetry of loneliness appears. As I wrote, his picture-architectural works, contrary (?) to their moderateness, are exciting and evoke emotions. In connection with it, let me mention the permanent motives of his works, that is the stairs. Stairs, which lead to nowhere, though their allegorical strength is undeniable.
The constructed imagination – let’s name his oeuvre this was, though his works,
contrary to their uniqueness, show different turns in style. Its golden cover is the cultural history of travels in space and time from Szatmárnémeti (his birthplace) through Europe to Israel, Egypt, Island, etc. And its golden cover is the peculiar
processing of the things seen previously. It is interesting that about the above
things he made photos, radiating clearness, which document the timeless monuments in the same harmonious geometrical order as it can be seen in the artist’s graphics and paintings.
The imagination, kept a tight hand on it by Pythagoras, was selected in three different ways for the three publics of different spots. At the exhibition in Pesterzsébet the color works from the 90’s were on show, while the remaining two exhibitions represented selections from the new works. His color acrilyc pictures give a bit more than usual by the shaded, restricted, brownish-greyish tones and the color within the system of lines. These dynamical spaces, most drawn with white background, become smoother and more “harmonious”. (“sprayed pictures”, among others the Turn of Stairs, Fragmented Memembrance, ect.).
My pictures has got no story – he could say. If I look at the pictures, there is nobody out of me – I can say as one of his literary fans. In the newest graphical sheets he continuously articulates. The spiritual and formal world of the Roman
Architecture, Inner Architecture, Black-and-White Architecture and the Space Architecture series develops, with the compliment that the more enigmatic and more emblematic sheets appear (again). Such as the Adam, Eve and the Snake pictures. In this period the geometrical forms are typical signs and symbols, intertwined and mounted on the archaic forms, on the male and female principles. Vásárhelyi’s pictures, closed in dynamism, are enriched this time (again) with organic, figurative features, however representation, reminding sight, and abstraction joins the usual way. Insofar as addition is characteristic of the artist, so much so that duality is characteristic of the artist, and their coefficient, too.
About Antal Vásárhelyi’s pictures
“architectonic dance order”
If we took seriously – and why should not we do – Dezső Szabó’s paradox,
according to which any worthwhile architecture is art, in that case we do not need symbolic interpretation to understand Antal Vásárhelyi’s works, because for the first sight they seem to be architectural representations. Certainly, we know that vision and reality are different things, this way we must take stock of better his creative world, seeming at the same time very homogeneous in its peculiarity. The many-times declared doctrine does regard architecture as an expressive art, though the universal history of architecture – sometimes loudly, another time in a more low key – continuously denies this opinion. Recently the late modern (that is post-modern) architecture sued back the right of expression of architecture, and this effort can be also seen in the results of high-tech architecture (see the Burj Al Arab hotel, shaping the sail of a ship in Dubai). Vásárhelyi’s idea is more post-modern, while he found his expression in painting and graphic with this sort of art. He could build up for himself a visual world, which seems to be familiar and engineering-like, but altogether it is strange, at least shocking.
I suspect, when our painter started to guess at this kind of illustrations, then he had to feel an architectural inspiration seriously. It can be proved by his photos, taken in different parts of the world (from Egypt to Island, from Rome to Japan, etc.). The reminding motives of his shots: arches, towers, colonnades, stairs, windows, gates, roofs, shoulders, cones, pyramids, whatsoever in the interest of giving inspiration to the graphical composing. Perhaps, the intrusive overcrowding of the elements comes from the hedonistic variety of experiences, probably professing the greatness of the creative spirit. In the later works this idea still exists, e.g. in the graphics from time to time some inorganic doodling appear in front of the architectural vision showing conscious, faultless construction and regular drawing. Chaos and order – our classical education translates it in the spirit of coincidentia oppositorum. And it also can be some sort of ostentatious self-justification: the satisfied grimace of the man who can get rid of the trap of coincidences elegantly. However, architecture mainly does absolutely the same. Man could be the lord of the earth by architecture; with just that fantastic abstraction, which could make him understand the dichotomy of out and in. The conscious understanding of spatiality and temporality made man absolute (the meaning of down and up has become clear previously, under the free sky). All Vásárhelyi’s works are the axonometric projection of this peculiar space-time, though I definitely do not want to say that he would not to be inquisitive about newer and newer dimensions. Moreover.
He definitely does not act as the burgess of the “plains”, not only curiosity originates in his mind toward the more complex spatial constructions, which ones Riemann tried to open already in the mid-19th century, but he expressly wanted to allude – even if with visual symbolism – to some sort of unknown extant, let’s say to the fifth dimension, just like the Moebius ribbon does it. (in physicians’ opinion the higher dimensions cannot be seen, however the shadow projections of their objects may be visualized in the plane of a paper or a screen.) It is a great help to him that he has to visualize his spaces in the two dimensions of the drawing paper or the canvas, namely they are virtual, respectively: symbolic spaces, the symbolism of which is primarily warranted by the perspective, that is to say that all we, the spectators are the initiates of this “trick”: we experienced what perspective is. However, we cannot take seriously that this perspective would be valid, let’ say, in those dimensions, which – according to some physicians’ opinion – were screwed up. (At Kaluza, for example, it is the fifth one.) However, we feel some worrying, when we see that Vásárhelyi’s virtual spaces nearly uninhibitedly give rise to each other, and this way they give birth to connections without any sense. Coherent nonsense universes of buildings – as if he wanted to deny the basic principles of Euclidean architecture – in order to fit in the “architectonic dance order”.
It was just Vásárhelyi who made a homage exhibition in 1998 to the Dutch Escher, the world-famous master of geometrical nonsense. Therefore, the nonsense joint of spaces can be valued as an organic part of his creative program. It is unambiguous that some “impossible” (or at least illusory) connections of lines visualize sharply these impossible spaces, however, the changing of vanishing points within the picture may also cause similar experiences. Palladio, that is an architect, proposed to the painters to place the vanishing point into the centre of the picture in order to dominate that by the maestá e grandezza. Well, nonsense is opposite to both, it rather drives at grotesque and irony. I think that at least since the renaissance there were only some significant works of art, which did not include some irony. (I speak about skepticism instead of confident unanimities. That is why I tend to adjudge Vásárhelyi’s works as pieces having the marks of irony, mainly his paintings. If I have it straight, he himself unmistakably indicates his intention in this matter. Namely, the canvas at him is not only a base for the picture, but a mount at the same time, which frames that virtual sheet of paper, on which these particular architectural compositions appear (however, the picture does not fit always onto this “sheet”), and which sheet – as its black shadow shows – emerges a bit from the neutral base.
In other words, there is a newer spatial conflict.
Over and above perspective, it seems to be, our creator applies the force of shadow in shaping the space, what is more, it goes together with the richness of tones. It is absolutely not by chance that beside the black and white colors (it is the paper itself) of the graphics, the infinite row of the grey colors takes an important part by shading, marking with lines and dots. In the case when the sheet, spalling from the mount, leaves the hardest shadow, it convincingly marks the artist’s elegant irony – not only contrary to the construction, but also to the sprawling confusions of form-shaping. Herewith, let’s think of the arrogance of the man of Babel, for his architectural intention to scrape the sky, which had to be punished by all means. I must say that I can see some transcendental interest in Vásárhelyi’s works, too.
In this matter I can refer to the diagonals, emerging again and again in the pictures, which suggest the image of depth by all means, and disrupt the basically horizontal-vertical system. The gradients make possible to create such spatial craftiness, the seeming depth of which can either suggest the spiral perspective of a staircase, for example, as one of his newest graphics “The City is a Round Mirror” is executed from bird’s eye view (2010). The dots and also the stripping appear here as gradients, on that score they countersink deeper the calamities of sight in absurdity. And we also could analyze his lithographs of this year, in order to get to such a complication as in case of the “From Lawrence O.’s Diary”, where the conscious construction reveals already some magical disintegration, some kind of detritus of perception.
The nonsense – ad absurdum.
Namely, I can find the most unambiguously in this series – though sometimes there appear some tragic momentums – the evidences of Vásárhelyi’s ironic approach. Now and again the titles already indicate it: “Astray, or You must Go upward”, “I Show You the Direction”, “East-West Dimensions”, etc. However, it can be indicated by turning the perspective: “Spatial Structure II”. As I aimed at the tragic tone, I must rely on the sheet “Exit”, in which, after long years, a human figure appear in some tunnel (maybe in a shell or a wormhole, if we pay tribute and mystery to the physics of parallel universes) – at the meeting point of two staircases in order to multiply the number of enigmas already in the philosophical sense of the word.
Till now he was able to raise disturbing ideas in our mind without any figure to effect that man is the prisoner of newer and newer labyrinths, what is more, he himself builds these labyrinths. As Jorge Luis Borges, one of the most significant experts of labyrinths, also thinks. From this approach we must cite the short story titled “The Abenhakan of Bokhara, who died in his own labyrinth”. Fear made Abenhakan to build a labyrinth around himself, which can protect his from deadly threat. The trap of bricks leads to the breakup of personality, the promise of evil omen is fulfilled. It seems to be that Vásárhelyi’s torso sets of buildings captivate spirit and hand, and take shape arbitrarily; the surface of engineering planning is at most a shroud on them. While all looks like an architectural segment, which generally plays a part in planning. It is also as arbitrary as the connections and order of forms in the sets. Perhaps, this segment-like character offers the chance of escape from the labyrinth, which – maybe by right of its peculiar logic (and also according to Borges) – foreshadows something about an unknown, possibly fourth dimension of space.
The Argentinian writer mentions a “many-walled and many-staged bronze labyrinth” in one of his other stories (which somehow enmeshed into the cobweb of Abenhakan’s history), this way many-walled and many-staged, pillared and vaulted formations beguile the spectators with promises, as if they were buildings, from Vásárhelyi’s sheets. The grimace of the creator becomes obvious in the uselessness of things, in the sense that the stairs lead to walls, the vaults swing to the air, to nothing, the columns are parts of a spatial game at most. The whole thing is actually an “architectonic dance order” – as we already cited the excellent graphic artist, István Orosz, who is also conversant with nonsense. (By the way, in Borges’ other story the desert becomes t5he deadly labyrinth.)
Or first is there a picturesque-graphical hyper-space drawn, in which the most essential physical questions – string theory, space-time, space-structure – can be queried and asked visually?
With aesthetical hypothesis.
Because, I suppose, the question is nothing less than aesthetical. The metaphysical background of the scientific problem excites the artist, as it excites mainly the philosopher. There is some meta-realistic in Vásárhelyi’s approach, loaning Guitton’s expression. It is authentic by its meta-realism. In his constructions the concrete architectural components are such as, let’s say, the cat in Schrödinger’s theoretical experiment about the parallel universes. They objectify the metaphysical idea, all but realize it. Colors appear in the paintings, though they are moderate pastels, but they intensify the illusion of reality. They make us accept the picturesque hyper-space (certainly, visible strings do not vibrate in them). They persuade the spectator of the fact that vision is always more complex than the first impression, than the superficial getting acquainted with things. As the physician gets on the tram in the regular space, known by all of us, however this space is more complex in his mind.
However, if we approach the Vásárhelyi phenomenon from the point of view of art history, first we must think of the metaphysical surrealism. That is pittura metafisica, which was established in 1917 in Ferrara by Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrá, and to which Giorgio Morandi joined some years later. Certainly, the activity of de Chirico can be considered the antecedent, whose classical Greek intention and Nordic philosophical thinking jointed together in a specific approach of space and time. I already referred to the closer relationship with Escher, which can be interpreted again in the spirit of surrealism. I think, however, that meta-realism, which seems to be wider in the philosophical sense of the word, throws the light better upon Vásárhelyi’s affection to the conception of space of modern physics, which is looking for unified theories (the consistent geometry of material and space) in its actual conformation. Perhaps, I do not make a big mistake, if I mention two genius French architects from the 18th century as architectural forefathers: Claude-Nicolas Ledoux and Etienne-Louis Boullée, who had nonsense architectural proposals and ideas in the midst of conditions in their age. Particularly the latter one is interesting with his affection to Newton, to whom he planed a ball-shaped sepulcher. Both of the French urged an expressively symbolic architecture, namely they looked for the proper architectural phrasing to the expression. The recent works of Vásárhelyi, the above-mention plate lithographs, one and all bear this sort of meaning, though in his case we cannot speak about the affirmation of forms; as I mentioned, his relation is ironic out and away.
The irony, supposed by me, can be Ariadne’ thread, which leads us out from the labyrinth, from that monomaniac thinking of walking round, what this sort of hardly traceable architectural piling of forms means in Antal Vásárhelyi’s unmistakably original and fascinatingly individual art. It is absolutely sure that his interest in the string theory originates from his manner how he favors geometrical constructions. Especially from the fact that our world is the remainder of many-dimensional universe of strings, and in this way it is arranged according to the laws of geometry, as already Riemann presumed it. Edward Witten, perhaps the greatest physician in our time, declared his basic position this way: “It is essential that the physician deals with concepts, he wants to understand the ideas and the basic principles, according to which the world goes around.” Well, the artist deals with pictures with similar views, he examines their basic principles, and shows to us his visual results.
This way Dezső Szabó can be right…
Dénes Nagy (Professor, Mathematician, Melbourne)
Architectonic Art with Multiple Points of View
Variations on a theme by Vásárhelyi
Architectonic = of architecture or architects; constructive; pertaining to systematization of knowledge (The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 6th ed.)
Architecture is often described as applied art, while painting and sculpture are characterized as autonomous art. Although this rigid distinction is not without criticism, it is still unusual that someone uses architectural constructions to express his ideas in fine art. Perhaps a possible characterization of Antal Vásárhelyi’s works would be architectonic art, emphasizing the strong relationship with architecture and the importance of constructions. Since many associations are possible with Vásárhelyi’s works, the form of our survey would be “variations on a theme”. This technique is often used in folk music and became an important tool for many composers, including Bach, Beethoven, and Kodály. In our case, however, the “variations” will be our associations in connection with the world of a graphic artist: these brief essays are written about the same “theme” from various points of view. Incidentally, we shall return to the idea of “point of view” soon in a very visual sense. The titles of the essays will be borrowed from books and a paper with mathematical “variations on a theme”.
Vásárhelyi’s architectonic art is unusual, but not totally without parallels. Indeed, we may mention something similar in the case of the “swan song” of Russian Constructivism in the 1930s, specifically in Yakov Chernikhov’s book:
The latter work can be considered as an interesting U-turn in the history of the Russian movement: Constructivism was started as fine art, became applied art (the Russians also used the expression “productive art”), and ended as fine art in Chernikhov’s architectural fantasies (Arkhitekturnye fantazii) Of course, these turns were strongly motivated by the political climate. Constructivists, after the initial acceptance by some political leaders, were condemned and lost their battle against social realism, which was soon declared as the only accepted way in art. Totalitarian political systems usually do not tolerate alternatives. Thus, Constructivists, who did not give up, had just three possibilities: to emigrate (Kandinsky, Gabo, Pevsner), to become almost silent (Malevich, Tatlin, Rodchenko), or, as a last option, to turn to the world of architectural fantasies (Chenikhov). Here the reference to architecture is significant because this was the field where the typical criteria of social realism – the representation of workers, peasants, and soldier – remained void, if we do not consider the decorations of the buildings. Chernikhov tried to use exactly this freedom provided by architecture. On the other hand, his way approached fine art where fantasy often dominated over architecture. Indeed, the opposition of Constructivism did not hesitate to emphasize this fact: Chernikhov’s book and some other similar experiments gained strong criticism and the destruction of Constructivism became complete in Russia. However, Chernikhov did not give up all of his dreams and continued his visual experiments in a scientific framework. He took degree in architectural science (kandidat arkhitekturnykh nauk) and became a professor of descriptive geometry. He also came to be known as a specialist in the construction of letters (not buildings!), which became the topic of his posthumously published book (Postroenie shriftov, Moskva, 1958). This is an interesting episode in seeing not only the end of Russian Constructivism as a movement, but also the survival of some of its results. Art historians often refer to the works of the Bauhaus-professor Kandinsky, the sculptor Gabo, and some other Russian emigrants who continued the consructivist tradition, while the contributions in theory of design and applied art by artists who remained at home in Russia are less known. This is the reason that Chernikhov is much lesser known than the mentioned artists. Note, however, that the exhibition Art and Revolution, Russian-Soviet Art 1910-1933 in the Műcsarnok, or Palace of Exhibition, in Budapest, November 1987–January 1988, which tried to present this period in its totality with more than 240 artists, introduced Chernikhov for a larger public. The exhibition catalog includes eight works by him, while, for example, Kandinsky or Rodchenko, is represented just by two works each. Of course, this number does not measure the importance of an artist, but at least gives a hint on the relevance of the contributions by Chernikhov. His works were also rediscovered by Russian crystallographers (Shubnikov and Koptsik, 1972), by American specialists of theory of architecture (Stiny and others), and inspired an entire monograph by Catherine Cooke entitled Chernikhov: Fantasy and Construction (London, 1984). However, we should not overemphasize the relationship between Chernikhov’s architectural fantasies and Vásárhelyi’s architectonic art. Not only are the historic context and the goals different, but in fact, there is no direct relationship between them. When I asked Vásárhelyi about Chernikhov, it became clear that he was not acquainted with Chernikhov’s works. I am also sure that Vásárhelyi, unlike Chernikhov, has no desire to start a career in science, although some of his works can be associated with scientific ideas. Perhaps an even more relevant difference is that Chernikhov constructed a sort of “pseudo-architecture”, perhaps nobody will construct his buildings in reality, but they are not totally impossible, while Vásárhelyi is definitely in the world of fantasies. Chernikov can be linked to some earlier traditions, especially to the utopistic architecture of the French architects Étienne-Louis Boullée (1728-1799) and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806). It is striking that both the French and the Russian architects worked in a revolutionary period, had a strong social commitment, while they were not directly associated with the political events and their utopistic plans were not realized. Note that Boullée built some palaces and Chernikov designed various factories that were realized, before they moved to the world of fantasies. (We should confess that the border between fantastic or real architecture is not very strict: remember that Antonio Gaudi’s sponsors made possible such buildings that are also closer to fantasy than reality.) In the case of Vásárhelyi, it is not easy to find earlier traditions, but we obviously may mention a concrete person, specifically
The World of M. C. Escher
Again, this is the title of a book, which includes scientific essays on Escher and a collection of his graphic works (New York, 1971). There are two keywords that should be emphasized in connection with Escher: impossible objects and playing with symmetry. Both are also relevant in the case of Vásárhelyi, although not in the same way as Escher used them. Still, I was interested in the possible link between Escher and Vásárhelyi, moreover I had a special point of view. In 1975, I published the first detailed and well-illustrated article on the Dutch graphic artist in Hungarian: “Escher’s ‘scientific’ art” (Escher “természettudományos” művészete, Természet Világa, 106, No. 9, pp. 407-412). This article was quite “visible” because the editors agreed to use Escher’s graphics on both the front and the back covers of this widely-known popular scientific journal. It is true that almost in the same time a periodical that publishes science fiction in Hungarian adopted many works by Escher (Galaktika, No. 12, 1975). In this case, there was no detailed article on Escher, just a short note, but leafing the journal one could see many works by him mostly independently of the text of the actual novels. When I asked Vásárhelyi about this, it became clear that he had not seen my paper, but the illustrations in the other journal had had a special impact on him. Thus, he had started studying Escher without scientific comments, just through seeing his works. The graphic art of Escher became an open world for Vásárhelyi. This is unusual, since for many people Escher provided a very interesting, but closed world. He is not a founder of an artistic school, he is not a person with many followers in art. (István Orosz is one of the very few graphic artists who often works in a similar context.) Indeed, Escher is a very special artist who had many links to scientists and perhaps less to artists. We may see his works more frequently in scientific books than in artistic ones. Some scientists realized that many graphics by Escher are useful for illustrating scientific ideas and it became almost a fashion to adopt them. This is no surprise, because Escher’s early works attracted the interest of some scholars, including the mathematician-physicist R. Penrose, the geometer H. S. M. Coxeter, and the crystallographer C. H. MacGillavry, and they inspired their late works. Let us see an example. L. S. Penrose and R. Penrose, father and son, introduced the idea of “impossible objects”, which cannot be realized by any physical object, although these can be drawn. They discussed the “impossible triangle” and the “impossible stairway” in a scholarly paper with impressive illustrations (British Journal of Psychology, Vol. 49, pp. 31-33, 1958). Escher adopted both of these objects and, indeed, in his remarks gave credit to the British scholars. Of course, Escher not just copied these impossible objects, but used some tricks in order to hide them. This approach led to Escher’s famous lithographs Waterfall (1961), where the falling water returns on a channel to the top, and Ascending and descending (1960), where the men are going down a stairway until they reach the starting position. On the other hand, Vásárhelyi has a very different approach. He does not hide the impossible parts of his buildings, but presents these directly.
Turning to symmetry, Escher’s main interest was to design periodic patterns and metamorphoses between them. Escher was inspired by the geometric patterns of the Islamic art of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. First Escher just copied these patterns, and later made similar ones with an important exception. Instead of making geometrical patterns, he used various figural motifs such that birds, fishes, lizards, and others. Caroline MacGillavry and other scholars were so impressed by these periodic drawings that they introduced these in the teaching of crystallography. The two fields are obviously related: in ornamental art, various figures are repeated, while in crystallography atoms, ions, or molecules. There are exactly 17 repetition-types or, with scientific terminology, 2-dimensional crystallographic symmetry groups. (Adopting an expression from linguistics, these are the “deep structures” of both ornaments and crystalline materials.) It means that all periodic patterns can be classified according to these 17 types. Escher discovered almost all the possible 17 types and even their colored versions. MacGillavry ordered a “missing” one for her book, and she also realized that in the case of colored symmetries, Escher was ahead of crystallographers (Symmetry Aspects of M. C. Escher’s Periodic Drawings, Utrecht, 1961; American edition, Fantasy and Symmetry, New York, 1976). Escher was also interested in 3-dimensional questions, including various types of polyhedra and 3-dimensional patterns. These topics are closer to science than to art. While scientists prefer to discover all the possible structures, artists are more interested in finding a few “beautiful” possibilities. It is not surprising that Vásárhelyi did not follow Escher into the direction of crystallography. His interest is to play with symmetry and asymmetry, including both 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional structures. The “metamorphoses” between structures, however, is a common interest of both of them. The fact that Escher’s world is still important for Vásárhelyi is well demonstrated with his more recent activity. Among others, he organized a collective exhibition commemorating the Escher’s centenary in 1998.This was not an exhibition of Escher’s works, but a tribute to him by Hungarian artists who dealt with some of his ideas in different contexts. The event was started in Budapest and then traveled to Japan. In the case of Vásárhelyi there is a further association:
Space, Time, Architecture
This is the title of S. Giedion’s book, which is an interesting survey of the history of architecture in time, specifically from the Renaissance to the Modern period (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1941; in German, Raum, Zeit, Architektur, Ravensburg, 1965; in Russian, Prostranstvo, vremya, arkhitektura, Moskva, 1975). However, we will use the expression “space, time architecture” in a different sense: let us see architecture in space-time. Indeed, it is not appropriate to consider architecture as a spatial form of art. A building is always 3-dimensional and we should walk around the building in time. During this “walk” in space-time, we see the building from various points of view, and we may understand new details. There is a tendency that books on architecture present very similar photographs of the same building from just one specific point of view. However, just one photograph cannot give a full picture of a building. We need rather a series of photographs in order to illustrate the building not only in space, but also in space-time. It is also important to study a building from both the outside and the inside, although in some cases the “border” between these two is not strict. Japanese masters invented such forms of traditional buildings where the inside and the outside are interlinked. The garden is coming into the house and the house is going out into the garden. This approach also inspired modern architects, not only Japanese, but also, for example, the “organic architecture” of the American Frank Lloyd Wright. One of his best-known works, the “Falling Water” weekend retreat at Mill Run, near Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania (1936) is a typical example of uniting a building and the nature around it: a small river flows through the building and provides an impressive waterfall in front. In this case, it is not true that the river is “outside” the house or the house is “outside” the river. They are united in a masterpiece of architecture.
Let us go further in this way in order to approach Vásárhelyi’s architectonic art. Seeing his “buildings”, we may often feel that although small details are realistic from a given point of view, these are united in such a way, that the entire structure is impossible. In some cases, we do not know that we are inside or outside the compound, because different parts suggest different answers. In this sense, Vásárhelyi is closer to the world of Escher’s impossible buildings than to the world of Chernikhov’s utopistic architecture. However, this approach is not unparalleled in the history of art. We may refer to various periods where the technique of uniting various points of view was used, including the prehistoric paintings in caves and the works of the Cubists in the early 20th century. In their cases, however, mostly we have some views of the same object in a united form, while Vásárhelyi does not represent a concrete object. He presents impossible compounds by playing with points of view. Remark that the idea of “point of view” gained a special importance in the Moscow-Tartu School of Semiotics, especially in the works by B. A. Uspensky. Here we should refer to his book The Poetics of Composition (Berkeley, 1973), which is available in many languages, including Hungarian (B. Uszpenszkij A kompozícíó poétikája, Budapest, 1984). Once I asked Uspensky about the different order of crossing oneself in the Western and the Eastern Christian Churches: up-down-left-right versus up-down-right-left. He answered, smiling: this is based on the point of view. The Western order of crossing is made for oneself, while the Eastern is made for the Lord, who is an outside observer. This is the explanation that the two processes are mirror images. Mirroring something for a different viewer is not unusual. The teachers of physical education facing a group of children usually present the mirror-motion of the exercises. He says, for example, “turn left”, while he turns to the right. We may observe that the text “ambulance” is often written in mirror writing on the front of ambulance cars. This strange writing is designed for the point of view of a driver who sights the ambulance car in the rearview mirror. In that case, the mirror writing is transformed into a normal readable text. Returning to Vásárhelyi’s works, we also may recognize that uniting different points of view may lead to unusual perspectives. The latter is also not unparalleled in the history of art: it is enough to see, for example, Russian icons or some pieces of Oriental art. There is exciting theoretical literature about “inverted perspective” and other possibilities. Note that there are many works on this subject in Russian written by, among others, the legendary priest, art historian, and engineer P. A. Florenskii (who is also called the “Russian Leonardo”), the painter and art historian L. F. Zhegin (Schechtel), and the specialist of space engineering B. V. Raushenbakh. Now we reached distant fields, but it is a good demonstration that the multiple points of view and the experiments with perspectives extend our “horizons”. But what about life in the architectonic world of Vásárhelyi? The answer to this question will again be given by using the title of a book:
The Life of Forms
The original French title is Vie des formes, and it was written by the art historian Henri Focillon (Paris, 1934; in English, New York, 1948; in Hungarian, Budapest, 1982). His interest in forms was inspired first of all by medieval art and architecture. Although Vásárhelyi’s works are related to modern architectural forms, we should not forget that Gothic structural design is often related to modern architecture, just the materials are different. Focillon pointed out that the logic of vision and its demand for balance and symmetry is not identical with the logic of structure, which also differs from the logic of thinking (1982, p. 21). The works of Vásárhelyi also supports this idea. However, we referred to the “life of forms” not only because of some statements in Focillon’s book, but also because of the “life of forms” in a general metaphorical sense. Studying Vásárhelyi’s compositions, we may feel that human problems without men and women being represented. In other words, he employs just forms to speak about life. The German poet Goethe suggested that in the case of organisms it is not enough to use the expression “form”, but we also need a different term for “living forms”: the Greek morphê and the German Gestalt. The morphê of a living organism is not just a geometrical and physical property, but also refers to the goal of defending it: the organism will regenerate its morphê in the case of any injury. In fact, Goethe dealt with morphology and made relevant contributions to biology. Later German psychologists outlined a new approach in their field and utilized the expression Gestalt. This German term is so special that usually it is not translated into English: Gestalt psychology. In Hungarian, however, it is alaklélektan and those who are interested in the problem of this terminology may consult some interesting papers (we recommend, for example, L. Kardos’s introduction to the collection of classical papers in the volume Alaklélektan, Budapest, 1974). Another interesting German expression is Kunstform that features in the very title of the artistic-scientific book by the German biologist E. Heackel: Kunstformen der Natur (Leipzig, 1899-1904), in English Art forms of Nature, in Russian, however Krasota form v prirode (The Beauty of Form in Nature). An exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. and the related book by P. C. Ritterbush used the following title: The Art of Organic Forms (Washington, D.C., 1968). The goal of this exhibition was to present the imaginative character of science by demonstrating its affinities with the arts. The expressions, “art form” and “organic form” provide a possibility to go beyond form and characterize such properties that are beyond the geometrical form. Earlier we referred to Frank Lloyd Wright’s “organic architecture” and here we should also mention the Hungarian Schools of Organic Architecture. I use plural because one should refer to two pioneering persons, to G. Csete who started with the structures of Hungarian folk art and architecture and to I. Makovecz who was strongly inspired by the works of Rudolf Steiner. We should not forget that Steiner’s first inspiration was Goethe’s morphology: he edited Goethe’s scientific papers and called the center of his anthroposophical movement the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland. The folk art of peasants adopted natural forms and had centuries to find the optimal one through practice, while Goethe and his followers had an interest to study the natural forms in a theoretical context. Thus, it is not surprising that the two approaches are strongly related.
In the case of Vásárhelyi, we cannot say that his works are dominated by organic form. However, if we consider not just the straight lines of his “buildings”, but also the decoration of surfaces we may have associations with organic fibers and tissues. In some cases, even the “buildings”, which are not usual buildings for living, provide some organic associations. Of course, the very process of thinking about his figures, trying to understand the arrangements, dealing with his tricks, is an organic process inside us. Here I mention just one interesting example, where not only our thinking, but the very finding is related to organic processes. We have a tower made with smaller and smaller cubes. Nothing is organic, is it? We have mainly simple cubes that are related to crystalline structures, but not to the organic world. However, if we consider the length of the edges of these cubes, we realize the following sequence from the top to the bottom: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21. The last one is not a simple cube, but the roof of a lobby-type room with symmetric stairways, which is presented with inverted perspective. Here we do not fully know that the stairways are inside or outside. What is organic here? The answer for this question is given in the following chapter:
Variations on a theme by Fibonacci
This is the title of a paper by the Hungarian mathematician A. Rényi in his collected essays (A Diary on Information Theory, Budapest, 1984, pp. 139-167). This paper was published originally in Hungarian “Változatok egy Fibonacci témára” (see Napló az információelméletről, Budapest, 1976, pp. 136-163). Rényi’s “variations” are mathematical, but now we open the topic for a wider approach. There are very few scientific subjects that provided so many false statements in art as the golden section and the Fibonacci numbers. The term golden section refers to the division of a line-segment into two parts so that the ratio of the smaller part to the larger one is the same as the ratio of the larger one to the whole, i.e.,
a/b = b/(a+b)
It is not difficult to calculate the numerical value of this proportion, which is called the golden number
j = a/b = b/(a + b) = (-1+√5)/2 = 0.618…
The golden section is known, although under different names, since ancient mathematics. There is no evidence, however, that it was consciously used by artists before the mid-19th century, when the philosopher, aesthetician, and writer A. Zeising introduced it as basic law of morphology penetrating the whole nature and art (Neue Lehre von den Proportionen des menschlichen Körper…, Leipzig, 1854, more than 450 pages with very many illustrations). His starting point was an observation that proportions of the human body can be well approximated by the golden section. For example, the navel divides the height of the human body according to the golden section. This statement is valid just for Caucasian people, and not for other races. Thus, the claim that the ideal human body is based on the golden section is not only incorrect, but especially dangerous and may lead to racism. On the other hand, experiments demonstrated that the golden section may have some aesthetical importance in the case of simple forms such that rectangles, triangles, and so on (Fechner, 1865 and 1871). The impressive analyses of art works by Zeising and the experimental-psychological results by Fechner started an extraordinary career for the golden section. The facts that some of the regulating lines of Zeising are very much artificial and the experimental-psychological studies dealt just with simple figures and not with complex art works, as it was emphasized by Fechner, were often ignored. Even the belief that the Latin sectio aurea is an ancient or, at least, a medieval expression is incorrect. With great probability, this term is the modern Latin version of the 19th century German term, der goldene Schnitt, which appeared in the mathematical-educational literature in early 19th century. (Specialists of history of mathematics believed that the first printed usage of the German term is of 1835, but I gave two slightly earlier examples of 1830 and 1833). Of course, I do not say that there were no expressions for the golden section in earlier periods, but these were different: extreme and mean ratio (Euclid), divine proportion (Paccioli), divine section (Kepler). Note that I demonstrated that Leonardo’s expression “divine proportion” is not a reference to the golden section, while his proportional figure of a male body with stretched out arms and legs, which is a possible illustration to an ancient remark by Vitruvius, is not based on the golden section. After so many negative remarks in connection with this proportion, let us see a positive one that needs special attention from the point of view of the golden section in nature.
The Italian mathematician Fibonacci (early 13th c.) presented a sequence of numbers that starts with two 1’s and then each further term is the sum of the previous two ones:
1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, …
There are conjectures that this sequence was known in various cultures much earlier, but, in fact, it became widely known following Fibonacci’s book. He presented it in the framework of a very artificial exercise about the growth of the number of rabbits, without giving any further detail in his book. Later it was discovered by various scholars, including the astronomer Kepler, that the ratios of the neighboring Fibonacci numbers tend to the golden number:
1/1 = 1; 1/2 = 0.5; 2/3 = 0.666…; 3/5 = 0.6; 5/8 = 0.625; 8/13 = 0.615…; 13/21 = 0.619…; 21/34 = 0.617…; 34/55 = 0.618…; etc.
In the 1830s, some German and French scholars, who worked independently, discovered a strong tendency of the presence of neighboring Fibonacci numbers at the types of arrangements of leaves on stems (phyllotaxis) and at the numbers of left and right spirals on the surface of pinecones, a pineapples, and sunflowers (A. Braun, C. F. Schimper, L. and A. Bravais). Some spirals in nature were compared with the golden spiral: the logarithmic spiral that intersects any straight line through its center according to a sequence of golden section points. These mathematical and biological discoveries gave a new dimension to the topic of the golden section and the related ratios of Fibonacci numbers. Interestingly, there are very many Hungarians who were interested in the questions of the golden section and the Fibonacci numbers. We list here some of them in a chronological order:
– Ferenc Liszt (1859), the well-known composer, stated in his letters that he would like to use the golden section in his music,
– Gyula Greguss (1868), a geographer, physicist, and poet, criticized Zeising’s golden section theory, demonstrating that it is not a universal morphological law,
– Loránd Eötvös (1877), the well-known physicist, dealt with Fibonacci numbers in electricity,
– Imre Henszelmann (1877), an archeologist and art historian, criticized the Hungarian architect Myskovszky, who analyzed a Gothic church by using the golden section,
– István (Etienne) Beothy (1919 and 1926), a sculptor, used Fibonacci numbers in his geometric drawings and sculptures, then he published a detailed book on his related research,
– Ernő Lendvai (from the 1950s), a musicologist, demonstrated the importance of the golden section and the Fibonacci numbers in time in the case Bartók’s and Kodály’s compositions,
– Ferenc Lantos and Mária Apagyi (from the 1970s), a painter and a pianist, used the golden section and the Fibonacci numbers in their pedagogical experiments,
– Mihály Beöthy and a group of engineers (1981) published a paper about the Holy Crown of Hungary (which is often interpreted as a cosmic object, similar to Stonehenge) and they claimed the presence of Fibonacci numbers as a structural principle,
– Gizi Rákóczy (from the 1990s), a painter, started to make visual experiments where she paints layers of colors according to Fibonacci numbers.
Many of the mentioned artists and scholars interpreted the golden section and the Fibonacci numbers as symbols of the organic world, which are associated with various biological phenomena. Now we have the architectonic graphics by Vásárhelyi, who also uses Fibonacci numbers. By this trick, he transforms a geometric world to an organic one, at least for those people who recognize the presence of Fibonacci numbers. Although he did not know about most of the abovementioned people, his work is a continuation a “Fibonaccian tradition” in Hungary. Note that I used Vásárhelyi’s Fibonaccian graphics for the cover of the proceedings of a congress: Symmetry: Art and Science, Tihany, Hungary, 2004.
Let us take a further look at the “architectonic art” of Vásárhelyi. After introducing this term, I had an interest in similar terminologies. After some research, I realized that the same adjective was used occasionally in art. For example, L. Popova made an Architectonic Painting, 1917; S. Bortnyik used the title Képarchitektúra (Picture-architecture), 1921, while L. Kassák wrote a paper by the same title “Képarchitektura” also in 1921 (see, for example, Camilla Gray’s book The Russian Experiment in Art 1863-1922, London, 1986, p. 189; Konstruktivizmus, Budapest, 1979, color plate no. 9; and pp. 179-186). Still these examples do not exclude the possible usage of the generic term “architectonic art”.
When seeing the “architectonic compositions” of Vásárhelyi, sometimes I felt not only skyscrapers, but also phallic symbols (what would Freud say?) or locomotives (what would the painter Bortnyik or the composer Honegger say?). This is precisely the excitement of Vásárhelyi’s world. Borrowing Umberto Eco’s term: his world is an “open work” and we try to open the doors and windows of his buildings and find new associations… While our fantasy works around his buildings, he remains silent and just smiling…
Csaba Kozák Budapest, 2005
The prevailing operator of the „Great Labyrinth” would probably purchase Antal Vásárhelyi’s Inner Architecture series. If we test our skill in the impassable, if we try how we can find our way in the maze, then in the meantime of experiencing the monotonous walls, wandering in the inner spaces of the phalanster, we could view, as a stylistic exercise, the newest series of Vásárhelyi. In our final desparation, as we have already lost Ariadne’s yarn, looking at Vásárhelyi’s graphics could have a reassuring effect. If the outer world is like this, if the roads lead to nowhere, if we can go upstairs only by marching downwards, if we cowered into a sheltered corner, but it opens suddenly in the shape of a wedge, if we already do not know whether where we are inside or outside, then we surely would calm down: it is all the same whether we wander in the maquette of an amusement park or in the labyrinth of life: virtual and real cover each other.
The hidden duality of his pictures, without delving into the depths of psychology, can somehow be traced back into his path of life. The artist was born in Szatmárnémeti (Satu Mare), which is Hungarian and not. He studied there (interior design and graphical studies in Bucharest, 1969-73), but came to here „to be a free-lance”. He left his native country to find his homeland, or he left his mother country to find a home? (The ideal would be if man lives where he resides, but there are situations when only the body resides and the soul lives elsewhere. He was drawing, but he was also at home in the field of applied graphics. He worked as an artist, but earned his bread as an art orginizer/curator of exhibitions (he was the art director of the Young Artists’ Club, 1982-89). Then he gave his life another twist, just like in his drawings, and worked for ten years in Germany (Nurenberg, 1989-99). Finally he came back the second time to Hungary, and started to reorganize with great elan the Union of Hungarian Engravers and Lithographers, gave face to the Gallery IX, was the initiator and co-curator of exhibitions (Hommage à M.C.Escher; Science in Art – Art in Science), in the meantime, besides taking part in numerous group shows, he put on show his works at individual exhibitions commuting between Sárospatak, Miskolc, Szeged and Vienna, Paris, Stockholm. Back and forth.
The biographical detour is important because Vásárhelyi’s works suggest the same restlessness, the permanent wandering of lines and motives, the game of back and forth, the continuous building and deconstruction. The Inner Architectures, involving more than 50 pieces by now, represent buildings, building complexes assembled from existing elements of form, which become non-existing houses. Home, we are looking for, a shelter everyone longs for. The architectonic and geometric signs come together in the shape of some sort of house. Let’s call them house, though many times they grow in size turning to be mansions, palaces and castles in the organic rank growth of their tiny cells. The artist puts on its way a line/lines, which shape with the greatest of ease a square, a rectangle, then are transformed into boxes-cubes-prisms. Rods- bars-cylinders-columns take shape, their bodies get coloured. Contrary to the loud, vital colours of his namesake, Victor Vasarely, at Vásárhelyi restricted, tired, a bit worn yellow and grey colours flare up, brownish-greenish shades appear on the stage, yellowish-rusty tones come to life in the surfaces. The black surrounds, borders, while the white shines out.
The alien (the spectator) is roaming in the embrace of arches and bands, bays of windows and corridors, rooms and chambers, roofs and gables, staying in terraces, hanging gardens and halls. But the details are too much for the eye. One should look at a Vásárhelyi work of art for a long time. First the whole, then the details come. The artist builds symmetrically (in the fragments) and assymmetrically (concerning the whole picture) at the same time. No matter how he plays with the blocks, smaller and bigger parts: the artwork always keeps the balance, the graphical architecture of the impossible suggests steadiness and lasting.
There are parts where slanting plans cut through the bodies of the buildings, there are parts where the overlappings uncover, and there are parts where they show the hidden wall surfaces in the background by reason of their transparency. We can discover cupolas, arches, prisms, sunk panels, mosaics, tympanums in the environment rich in motives. Forms referring to old and new, the antique and modern (what is more: eclectic and post-modern) elements, assemble in harmony and elegantly.
Children build the similar way: they do not care about the rules (they create them), they do not want to imitate an already existing game castle, to copy other kid’s idea, they simply put one piece on top of another, shaping inner and outer spaces. However, Vásárhelyi does it consciously, pre-calculating the construction. The Fibonacci Sructure (sub-title), one of the pieces of the series is a good example for it. His slanting, tower-like house, including cubes and rectangles, is built on the basis of the Fibonacci row (l, l, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, etc.). The trick is that the shaded layers, just like the portions of colours changing their tones, follow the rules of the sequence of numbers.
About his original drawings, 100×70 cm each, executed in paper, acrylic, China-ink, pencil, we should know, that they are unbelievably time-consuming works. All the same. They are as if there was no fight, no sweat during the execution of the work. The houses at some places are located on or before such grounds and backgrounds where the wrist loosely draws dancing twists. These gestures counterpoint the lank and massive complex of building. The counterpoint of the drawing does not disturb the totality of the picture, but just loosens its tension and concentration.
Vásárhelyi’s castles are not ruined ones (no rubble can be seen, all the fragments are the organic parts of the building), they are not subsequent reconstructions, the insertions and completions are not for the sake of the tourists (to let them see and feel the one-time architecture), but are his own, artistic inventions. He puts the open and bare bones of the cube, the coffin-like chests, the bell towers, the stairs winding meander-like into the segments of his houses as if we could get there and walk all over them. On the one hand, his houses open out and keep calling us, showing impudently all their parts,while on the other, our way is full of hidden traps in order to make the life of the intruder more difficult. From his pictures, contrary to his previous works, he has totally sent the figure, the man into exile. The spectator can also hardly get into his houses. Perhaps, only up to a certain point.
And where to from that point? Some of his critics resembled his illusory spaces, changing the perspective, to the works of Piranesi and Escher. Knowing Vásárhelyi’s artworks, one can relate the fruits of his activity to that of other masters. But his art resembles only itself.
My home is my castle. The artist of the house builds the house of the artist. Vásárhelyi has already built his house. And he is „at home” in it.
Outside World – Labyrinth
Foreword to Antal Vásárhelyi’s works
What are these pictures like? We can get to several directions with this seemingly simple question. What are the features which characterize not only the world within the pictures but also their creator? Namely, what kind of creative fantasy develops at the moment of their birth? The most important thing, we must mention, is the pleasure of paradoxes. We may also name Antal Vásárhelyi as the artists of opposites. Certainly, it is not about the contrast of good and bad solutions or about quantitative fluctuation, for all the works shown in the present catalogue represent excellent quality. We can observe rather the extreme diversity of ways of expression, compositions, the found replies in his works. However, the opposites and their handling, to be analysed below, show at once another important basic character: the permanent operation of creative fantasy, the continuous usage of the means without which there would not be any chance to create the pictures, not to talk about the regulation of opposites which organize the works. Creative fantasy has got a very important role in our case. Even if such motives rule seemingly over the pictures which could be determined traditionally not as the character of fantasy, but rather that of the strict, exact, objective, engineering work. There are strictly, millimetre-precisely constructed architectonical spaces set into perspective, superstructures based on massive ground, elegant colonnades, vaults, inner spaces. Motives which require mathematical sense, science of perspective, compasses and ruler during the process of creation. Consequently, means and abilities which traditionally never appear as the manifestation of instinctively organized, fantasy-ruled creation, but rather in case of the over-rationalized visual worlds. This is the moment when fantasy comes to the front, which is able to practise magic from the basic motives. How does this paradox work? The architectonical elements in themselves, picked out from their context, one by one could work normally, but jointly they immediately undress their logic and create spaces and relations which never existed before. They invert the directions and dimensions, the questions of base and superstructure, outside and inside, below and above, front and back. They create structures closed into themselves, which hide their secrets, too. Newer and newer fields open up, roads take shape. In the sheets the worlds are built by the side of various lines of force, sometimes in the relation of horizontal and vertical, another time in the direction of the diagonal. Sometimes the superstructures are based on wide grounds, another time we must worry about their survival. We start walking in the spaces, watching the marked ways, then soon we realize that we got lost; where we think we found a new way, we only went back to the previous place, we walked accross some space the way we were not inside, we reached up to the peak the way we were going downward, we went round the way we did not move from the centre. Consequently, whenever we examine Antal Vásárhelyi’s works we must transform our view. It is not allowed that their seemingly rigid structure make us deceive, rather we can enjoy the new way of seeing things, what we make our own when we look at them. For example, just in that way we move away from the feelings caused by the rigid structures, and let us relax in the midst of more eased relations. However, it is not only the peculiar pairing of elements by which he intends to create the unified, organic visual world. The very diversified working out of the surfaces also belongs to it. We could see that there are closed areas calculated with ruler and compasses, drawn by a single definite line. There are also variants when refined marks with lines fill in other fields, or impenetrably dense, dark units appear, another time motives, similar to tiny grains of sand, fill up the given surfaces. We can take notice of new layers of meaning if we add the origin of motives and this way naturally the direction of references. The architectural elements mainly refer to the masterpieces of European and Egyptian architecture, to our common cultural treasures, and according to it the spaces, coming to life by them, raise the question of recycling of tradition and its effects. Namely, what can a contemporary artist do with that treasure of form which had become our own, and we can neither treat it in isolation nor can we forget? Certainly, oblivion or denial cannot be its aim, however, it is characteristic of its period, which means it absolutely bears the formation of contemporary solutions. Antal Vásárhelyi’s approach is also a good example for it. He puts into shape enigmatical, mysterious illusions of the space from those forms which originally, thousands of years before were born in order to take shape the most concrete, most direct space situations. The Greek-Roman temples, Egyptian pyramids, Reneissance colonnades once became know by their regular, harmonious devices, and this is the reason why posterity pays admiration to them. However, Antal Vásárhelyi’s fantasy spaces absolves just this way the question of their own existence: they build up the most complex, opaque and dazzling relations from the most classical, most primary segments. What is more, their building up and complexity is strengthened by the game of surfaces penetrating into each other: sometimes a starting line of force is able to permeate and cross over the whole growth. However, in this case it is jumping many times into and out of the spaces, bearing itself or the game of the surface of the ground in its own stripe. One more question have to be cleared up at the worked up surfaces: I speak about those cases when we meet calligraphical motives as elements to fill up the space. The Hebrew letters, which seems to be a section of a text, are fictitious. This way they loose that sort of sacrality which is their own in case of their real, meaningful version. The sacral signs, leading out of the labyrinth, which are devalued to perfunctory ornaments, cannot help anymore. All these have a strict judgement: the means opening up a way to sacrality, the saint writing became decoration of the surface, the decoration of those labyrinths from which the way out could be just the overview. Getting lost. A new concept which seemingly is absolutely contrary to the creation of the rigid, perspectival architecture based on optical regularities. However, it is important to mention an important feature in order to explain the situation, and it is in connection with the birth of the pictures. The Vásárhelyi works are executed directly, their is not any sort of preceding planning, sketch, test of the structure. They are taking shape during their birth. They have the opportunity to transform themselves at any moment. A corridor may be closed, a space may open up, stairs may knock against the wall, the ceiling may open up, a column may be broken into pieces. Namely, the artist does not create (let it exist only in his fantasy) a structure, but builds up the world on the sheets themselves, which is comparable to that one surrounding him, too. We cannot think that he simply recreates his environment, or building up his pictures in the sign of a shallow-sentimental soul-landsape allegory. Rather we can rightly speak about a kind of judgement, which is motivated by the despair he feels toward the perfunctory application of getting lost, swindle, relations of appearance, pseudo solutions, basic symbols. We can explain with the same tension the frequently appearing scribblings executed with powerful gestures. Certainly, first we shoud think that the instinctive, passionate drawings formally serves the cancellation of the rigidity of architectonical structures. However, it is another form of the outbreak of his judgement, which, in spite of all its chance and uncontrollable character, harmoniously completes the appearance of the regular superstructures obedient to mathematical laws. The unity of the final result is just due to the above opposites. For the final unity and completeness of the picture cannot reached only with the elements of form. The artwork does not work, if only the coordination of the structural relations happen. However, Antal Vásárhelyi’s works are attractive from the point of view that the artist primarily keeps the final, inner unity of the artwork in view. Though the beauty of technique may let our eyes dwell on the finenesses of details, but he knows well that we would get fed up with it sooner or later. The varied formations of the surface, the particular, irreal diagrams, strange relations of the spaces, the filling up of the space in many ways, the careful handling of the line, minute, granular surfaces are all in vain, we are fascinated mainly by the unity, the way it is built up from the details. Cubes from the squares, floors from the stairs, spaces from walls. The picture itself form the elements of the picture. Nevertheless, the line transforms itself and, in spite of its beautiful formation, it does not demonstrate its own beauty. Rather with the fact that it truely shows us what it surrounds. Let it be either in an architectonical environment or in the formation of an uncontrollable breaking out gesture. Anyhow, the artist achieves his purpose, the picture starts moving, working. Just like our glance which cannot stop when we watch Vásárhelyi’s works.
We are watching ourselves.
Architectonic dance programs
Point – line – space – plane – time.
No doubt, these pictures are at work in this way.
And time – plane – space – line – point.
These are dimensions, packed in boxes, architectonic dance programs, illusionary engineering works, self-begetting labyrinths.
Two points transform themselves into a line, three ones indicate the plane, four ones already create the space, and the unquenchable desire for repetition makes move our eyes further on in order to be lost in the spatial traps of Vásárhelyi’s pictures.
All the repetitions are invented for the visual representation of time. For the tricky captivation of time. He makes visible the moment of time to be sandwiched between past and future, pulling it apart in space the way the endlessly sharpened brass pipes of a telescope are drawn apart, or as the picture of past and future moves away in the plane of the photo-finish. He builds around this non-existing thing with entangled buildings, autonomous constructions, architectonic elements growing wild. He works by reason of unusual acting principles, while he resolutely refuses the well-known rules. He gives up nostalgia, tempting many artists, cuts the umbilical cord of romanticism, and he also gets out of the way of literary associations and philosophical propositions. The traditional visual synonym of time, called “poetic”, is perspective, the tenderly bending lyric approach of perpendiculars running toward decay. Vásárhelyi cuts these strings, breaks with perspective, rules out infinity. His world is that of clear axonometric representation. Axis and metrum in the coordinate system of frozen time. Factual, cool, consequent. The expressions: outside and inside, in the front and in the background take part with equal chance in the ritual combinations of motion of architectural elements. The other, well-known commonplace for time is the representation of ruins. This is nearly obligatory in case of architectural themes. Vásárhelyi does not need that. One cannot find a crack, the perfection of the straight lines drawn by the side of the ruler and that of the regular curves are almost ostentatious. The traditional composition of the fine arts is replaced by the musical and geometrical building. These are the series of stairs, the rhythm of columns, the runs of brick joints, the refrains of window frames, the pulsations of risalits, repetitive parts of entablatures, the harmonies of tympanums, the accords of pillars, the melody of consoles, the meditative structures of arcades and their echoing repetition. The repetitive being of forms, the emphasis of recurrences, the appearance and return of motives, their chatting and fading give the feeling of time in the pictures. Because the frozen time, the feeling of timelessness is also the feeling of time. And certainly, the correspondence of symmetries. The mirroring, pervading effects, the obstinate palindromes of sight. The constructions border on each other under the mounts, they grow into a city, and the extatic layering of this imagined city, its emptiness, the lack of people is unified in a single plane, as if the floors slipped together in an x-ray shot about the end of the world.
In order to ease the interpretation of the strict architectures of time, or just by giving us a wink – our artist can draw up in a more traditional (i.e. more literary) way – , as in the background of the majority of his works seemingly some homogeneous pattern appears, which fills in the surface. Do not be reluctant to step closer to the picture: the pattern of tiny granules, grains of sand appears. The emblem of time running down grain by grain. We may think that it is the addition to the main motive, however it has a sovereign function: it gives an own unit of measurement to the drawings, its regular pizzicato measure the “picture-time”. Time of the artwork, that of the creator and the spectator. The grains of life, which can be drawn and run down in one unit of time are permanent. And transcendent. Time – plane – space – line – point – point – point.
What kind of and what is the maximum load of a simple exhibition room? For example, that of the gallery of this place? I ask it, because for the first sight Antal Vásárhelyi’s present exhibition raises a dilemma of that kind. In his surfaces there are all sorts of massive timber frames, softly bending arches or rhythmical stairs, as if we were loafing around among the walls of a peculiar, virtual city, though we are just looking around in a small-scaled room. Although, over the window-frames the theatre, the classical buildings of downtown flash occasionally to our eyes. However, Vásárhelyi’s works also show a preference for the more traditional, more archaic spatial forms, this way we are in a trap waiting for unlocking. There are houses and buildings outside and also inside: as if we had to experience the surprising situation of the city within the city.
And why not? The exploited, overworked city dweller of our period runs away in any case to far and bucolic places close to nature. Since, one cannot scraping by all the time in a noisy, chaotic and geometrically strict polis. Nevertheless, Antal Vásárhelyi obviously stands his ground. Though he lives in the downtown of Budapest and worked for more than one decade in the bustle of the streets of Nurenberg, he still incessantly insists on his much liked facades of stones and houses. As if a secret, hidden architectural vein were in him. And let’s see wonder: the creator, originating from Szatmárnémeti, studied just interior design and graphics in Bucharest. That’s another matter, that in the first period of his career he also cultivated the motives of hills, mountains and organic details. What is more, nor even the ironic, symbolic figures were absent in his works. Then he became more radical and clear. He merely followed the lanker, more rational methodic of a master builder, as if the development of a particularly homogeneous, consequent art was before his eyes.
Homogeneousness, spiritual clarity? No doubt, in its entirety we can see a particularly elaborate, coherent and exciting works of art. We can see that the dynamically running geometrical, architectonical elements of form dominate in the pictures, but some restrained, calming atmosphere radiate from them. Some concentrated, realistic, masculine harmony. After all, the formal, spatial basic formula of these works are provided by the grayish-bluish constructions of tones and the surrounding lighting surfaces. It means that we seemingly stand in the frontier zone of the conventional, earthly and heavenly, material and spiritual territories, but it is only apparent. Let’s try to make our way tenderly, tolerantly into the witty, meditative compositions of Vásárhelyi’s buildings, and try to find some rational, tracing, spatial ways.
Well, sooner or later we inevitably got confused. Still after the second, third approach, as if the artist were inviting us to an illusory, inscrutable labyrinth.
Do not be inconsistent with this gentle invitation. The spiritual, artistic adventures are regularly interesting and instructive. For example, we start walking upward in stairs, hoping that we get to some elegant, wide zone of space. Certainly, such ideas occur sometimes. However, it is neither rare that the quick stairs definitely sell us down the river. From time to time they lead us to nowhere, they are nearly for their own sake. While elsewhere the terminal is just a narrow darkroom. Yes, in Antal Vásárhelyi’s works the rhythmically aligning stairs of ladders have an important role. Even if formally their function is connecting and spanning, but in its entirety they represent some anthropomorphous mentality and the human desire for something different, something more and something more beautiful. What the wedding and dance macabre of the angelic motives are in the mentality of Béla Kondor and his followers, at Vásárhelyi that is the paradox base of stairs.
Where do the artist’s ingenious and shocking ideas about the space come from? Firstly, he behaves as a rigorous scientist or a creator of surrealistic view, because he is interested only in the architectonic details of form, the torso-like formations. From the above-mentioned parts he produces more organic variants of buildings, which seem to be complete. He makes good use of the profits of practical vision and central perspective, but besides them he also applies the axonometric methods, due to the fact that we hardly can find mechanic repetitions in the varied actuation of the picture-parts. Though he is fond of regular, harmonizing structures, but he likes the more refined, asymmetrical constructions, too. Then we can face many pervasions and multiplications, many inventive spatial distortions in the vivid cohesion of architectural forms. At him the stairs are frequently statuesque, living formations, on another occasion they change to regular, plane-like and symbolic triangles, and it also happens that the black line, raising to the sky, leaves a definitely white, lighting shadow behind itself. As if the creator protested against his traditiona vision, his stiff, schematic, automatic response. However, it is to be decided: what kind of heritage joints to Antal Vásárhelyi’s magic, fantastic realism. No doubt, that the more concrete and life-like territories of form demand again an important role in the extreme, fighting art of our age. It is not by chance. Do not forget, after Kandinsky, Mondrian and Pollock, the universal modern art mostly left behind itself the centuries old conventions of object- and space-likeness concerning the merits of them. Though, it is true that the apolitical cubists still harmonized the dimensions of dynamic vision and analytic approach of objects of many points of view, but later this sort of demanding, intellectual behavior got lost. Fortunately, not completely. Namely there was an exceptional Dutch creator, Comelius Escher, who, with scholarly throroughness and playful ease, got international fame while studying the magic of objective, material , the up-to-date possibilities of transformations. Therefore, it is not by chance that a lot of contemporary Hungarian artists, like Antal Vásárhelyi, are attached to his spiritual foundation.
There are, for example, artists who extend this dynamic, many-sided illusionism of space also to the figurative themes, while already Leonardo made things like that, not to talk about Escher’s analogous efforts. That’s another matter that I accept it with reservations and I rather agree with Ernő Kállai, the excellent art historian. He indicated that the French cubists could create authentic, powerful works till they remained at the lanker and more puritan objective and environmental way of seeing. As the supersensitive, organic human order of forms is not willing to lie down under all sorts of stylistic efforts. Otherwise, with this statement I fight for Antal Vásárhelyi’s peculiar, architectonic artistic world as well, because he also said good-bye to his parabolic, paradox figures, while he intended to force the more personal, more subjective contents of creative messages from a more objective, more archaic order of forms.
Contemporary contents, actual suggestions? That’s what hard to talk about. George Seurat, the genius painter of the end of the 19th century, in any case, exactly had a presentiment that the future of art would be determined obviously by the openness of view. That is, how the public can be involved, participated in the process of creation. Well, Antal Vásárhelyi’s demanding, humble pictures take the initiative in such a dispute, too. It is said among others: yes, the classical architectural formulas are stunningly beautiful, dignified, rhythmical and monumental. Then, they are accurate, lasting. However, our time zone – let’s continue the dialogue – is absolutely different. We must also acknowledge the historical heritage the way the alternatives of the chaotic present and the threatening future must be considered. Essentially it derives from the above statements that in these elaborate, varied and plane-like works the spatial dimensions pretty much exceed the scales of reality. We are inside and outside at the same time, we are standing strikingly near and far at the same time in our particular spaces of life. There is only one thing without doubt: we are living in an uninterrupted, continuous search, rummaging. We do hope to find points of reference in this world which became entirely confused. Montaigne also warns us: “No wind is good for those, who do not aim at a chosen harbour.” In any case, Antal Vásárhelyi perceptibly has his own port, what is more: he also disposes over an imposingly characteristic artistic fleet.
The Towns of Vásárhelyi
In the summer of 1994, Antal Vásárhelyi bought the towns so dear to him to Kolozsvár. He did not come alone. He took not only his black-and-white graphics and boardworks, but he was also accompanied by a talented, contemporary German sculptor, Uwe Kunze. I do not think that their coming together was just a coincidence. Their common appearance in front of the Kolozsvár audience, made the impression of a thoroughly prepared, good exhibition. We had the feeling that those whom we meet are, in fact, acquaintances.
This is the case for Antal Vásárhelyi, since he had already introduced himself in the „Korunk Galériája” /Gallery of Our Age/. Then he came from Szatmárnémeti, and he was supported by Géza Páskándi. The introducion in his catalogue was written by Géza Szőcs. Since that time, we can find among his admirers not only writers but famous art critics, who analyse his works, too. The competent critics compete to provide a metaphysical explanation for /one of/ the main motives of Vásárhelyi: the stairs, the staircases. They are asking where these stairs come from, where they lead to, how they fit into the surrealistic vision. I dare to say that Antal Vásárhelyi is engaged in sight, first off all. He is interested int he sights that he could experience in Transylvania /especially in the Saxon towns/ and which he often encountered while staying in Germany. These kinds of buildings can also found in certain parts of Hungary. Since Vásárhelyi is interested in constructivism at least to the same extent a sin surrealism, he treats the surroundings /the town he is sorrounded by/ as his own piece of work of art. Of course, he searches for the position that both people and objects take, but what is really important, is the complete work of art as a whole, the construction _ the Town. That can also be another reason for finding these works familiar to u sin Transylvania.
Despite the fact that the style of abstraction remind us of Brancusi, sometimes, the sculptures of Uwe Kunze are also a part of the town civilisation. However, his way of combining stone, metal and wood is far from the great Romanian ancestors, similarly his humour is essentially different, too. In the town where Vásárhelyi lives, the stairs lead into art studios, like Uwe Kunze’s.
It was good to open the doors of Szentegyház Street art studio to the works of the two artists, to encounter a world /two worlds/ which we share, too. Nowadays, we just do not talk much about it.