“Among art historians I was a sociologist, among sociologists an art historian”

Életútinterjú S. Nagy Katalinnal

Katalin S. Nagy was open-minded about both manual and intellectual work. She undertook research in psychology and sociological surveys. She curated numerous exhibitions, wrote studies and finally chose teaching as her main career. Thanks to her openness, she was able to be effective as an outsider and to be accepted by hard-to-please professionals. In 1967 the Young Artists’ Club organised a group visit to Moscow and Leningrad for artists, poets and writers, during which she met a young sculptor who suggested she get involved with the fine arts and visit various studios. Tibor Tóth, the head of the Rákosliget Friends of the Arts Circle, once said she should organise the next exhibition, displaying work by a young artist called Lili Ország. They went to visit her at home and the meeting decided her fate. She got work as an assistant editor for the Encyclopaedia of World Literature and that determined her future in that she finally chose a professional career. Through Lili Ország she quickly made contact with others in the arts world. She met Lajos Németh, who accepted her as a student and encouraged her to return to university. In 1974–75 she mainly organised unofficial exhibitions and visited artists and studios. She decided to become a teacher twice after seven years of research in different institutes, since the results were always the same. It was clear to her that as long as she made surveys in museums and with exhibitions she would always hear the same from the same narrow circle of people. Then she realised that she should visit homes and see what a painting meant to different people.  In summer 1976 she finally became a sociologist. Among art historians she was a sociologist, among sociologists an art historian. She had a lot to thank for all her research, but she had had enough of it always becoming evident that Hungary was a feudal country, with no middle class in the western sense, that people lived an eclectic, troubled life with a mixed-up scale of values. Barely a whiff of modernity reached the majority. Meanwhile, she continued to teach the sociology of the arts, cultural sociology and visual communication at the Applied Arts College and the University of Economics. Then in 1987 she became a full-time teacher. She gained all the necessary papers to become a university lecturer, qualified, became a doctor of the Academy of Sciences and a head of department. With that she lost her uniqueness, though she considered herself a good teacher. Katalin S. Nagy was born in 1944 in the Nagykanizsa ghetto. She survived thanks to her mother’s first husband and her father. Later she was baptised and confirmed, in line with her mother’s wishes. Yet others made sure she would know about her Jewishness. She asked her grandfather what it meant to be Jewish. He answered it was a matter of decision. She thinks it should be like that, but it never will be.