Contemporary Applied Arts from Hungary 1.


The members of the former Manual Group are again exhibiting their works together. Although some new pieces are also on display at the show, their collective presence is primarily reminiscent. Furthermore, it signifies a joint commemoration of the late Anna Szilasi, who died in 2003. The Manual Group was founded in 1975 by six artists representing different styles and characters. However, they discovered a specific attitude that was similar in the works of each of them. The Manual Group represented a possible alternative to the trend that in general can be described as one following and advancing modernism. The puritan functionalism of this trend revised and surpassed the several hundred year old traditions of artistic object creation in order to enforce the aspects of optimal usage and practicality. The members of the Manual Group distanced themselves from the tendencies of autonomous object creation, too. They turned back to the traditions that the engineering designer ideology of the time regarded as outworn. They accepted and undertook both the decorativeness and the uniqueness of works created with handicraft techniques. The critics first described the group as nostalgic, whereas a couple of decades later they saw the forerunner of post-modernism in the approach. Fortunately it was possible to learn about the principles of the group not only indirectly, through the interpretation of art historians, but also directly from the artists themselves. One could get to know their ideas as early as 1979, at their first Hungarian exhibition in the Art Hall. The Manual Group artists published what they considered the most important in their works, probably so that they could avoid any possible misunderstanding or misinterpretation. The ars poetica of the artists highlights the artworks message: the objects of the Manual Group represent, in the original and complete sense of the phrase, arts and crafts. They are opposed to objects based on fine arts as much as to products created though engineering design. In Hungarian language the term iparművészet, that is arts and crafts, can be misleading. The expression lost its value when it was linked to the false-art of fair goods which the Manual Group thoroughly rejects. Nevertheless, the exploited and discredited term should not lose its original, historical meaning. The art of the Manual Group can take us closer to the restoration of the term which is so rich in shades of meanings. Unfortunately this restoration is still a long way ahead as it would require a basic knowledge of object culture on the part of the audience. However, neither in the 1970s nor later did such a discipline receive sufficient attention in public education compared to literature, music or fine arts. Those artists who committed themselves to art and crafts have always had to put up with the fact that the public approach their works either with the attitude of the audience of fine arts or that of the design consumers. The members of the Manual Group discovered this phenomenon in the mid 1970s and thus wrote their essays for the exhibition in 1979 to help the visitors understand the works. The critics of the time and the historians of later decades appreciated the written ars poetica of the artists as much as the visitors of the exhibitions or those interested in these artists and their works. It is astonishing to see that the analyses of the situation of 1983 is still adequate in 2007. The artists bad mood, their isolation caused by the superficial and business oriented artistic era, the public indifference and even antagonistic approach towards their values are all actual. We know how much has changed over the past two decades, but the basic problem can still be expressed with the very same words. Reading the sentences written in 1983 one can draw the conclusion that if the bad mood of the artists deepened as much as the circumstances stimulating that were escalating, then sooner or later it was inevitable that a radical change would occur in the group. The Manual ceased to exist, that is its members – regardless the positive feedback from their audience - did no longer exhibit as one group. They continued their artistic career independently on separate ways. They still shared the same ideology and attitude that united them earlier, but they did not feel the collective appearance justified. The cooperation of these enthusiastic young artists, who started their career at the same time and who shared similar aesthetic values, broke up; nevertheless their oeuvres evolving independently have ever since been growing. They have had one man shows, individual publications, their views and convictions on professional matters have appeared in articles and interviews. They are role models for many young artists, and the members involved in education could and still can pass on their ideas to those art students who are open and responsive to the still up-to-date ideology that can be defined as the Manual heritage. The people of the millennium live surrounded by virtual worlds. In this environment time will soon be ripen for the community to turn their attention and sensitivity to real and concrete objects which are formed by human hands. Not only because such creation itself possesses values, but rather due to the ideas their creator wishes to communicate. Those able to see and understand the distinctive character and even personality of unique and substantial artworks can appreciate the new exhibition of the former Manual members in 2007. The joint display is a symbolic gesture: after more than two decades, beyond isolation and bad mood, uniting possibly at the verge of wise separation, could the artists agree on a new collective exhibition which is much approved of both by the keen audience of the past, band also by the new generations who grew up without Manual exhibitions.

Ágnes Prékopa

Text by: Ágnes Prékopa
Layout: Kálmán Molnár
Content: 76 + 4 pages, with 66 colour-plates
No. of Issues: 1000
Date of Publication: 2005