Is it possible at all?

The Imaginary Archive of Avant-garde

If the concept of cultural heritage means the sum total of achievements, individuals and intellectual, cultural phenomena deemed valuable for a given community, then the historic avant-garde in Hungary can surely be a part of that. If the practice of museumisation involves conservation of the past, processed and interpreted through objects and documents, then this task can be ticked off with the establishment in 1976 of the Lajos Kassák Memorial Museum. Undoubtedly Ferenc Csaplár, who both fostered and analysed Kassák’s complex art legacy, deserves merit given that avant-garde literally and metaphorically became institutionalized. Yet despite all his efforts the situation seems not to have been entirely resolved. Documenting, systemising and presenting heritage with exhibitions represent a part of what is called intellect fostering in the context of cultural memory and heritage. Nevertheless, the question now is whether both in the case of historic avant-garde and neo-avant-garde the subject itself, i.e. the comprehensive artistic, aesthetic and socio-critical movement questioning the artist’s role, the existence of enclosed autonomous artwork and the institutional system of the arts, makes this process possible. Is the museumisation of the avant-garde justifiable or even possible at all? The question is whether manifestations connected to a complex artistic approach which probes the boundaries of art and openly questions the concept, institutions and hierarchy of the arts can really be documented. What does to document mean? What is a document itself? And what does the concept of a museum or archive based on collecting, classifying and presenting the documents mean in the long run? If it is true that art is what is ‘forbidden’, i.e. what goes beyond the customs and practices consumed and interpreted comfortably as ‘art’ and ‘high culture’ in the bourgeois world and sees its own legitimacy in the incessant provocation of the artistic and cultural routine, then can a moment be fixed at which ‘forbidden art’ always remains provocative and subversive? The intention to preserve the past is always problematic and complex, but to do that with avant-garde, which denounces the relations with tradition, continuity and the experience of time, is perhaps even more complicated.  To put it more simply, in order to show avant-garde in the present, which is sunk in the past, we somehow must show the wild alienness of the atmosphere of the artist’s manifestation beside classic museological, art and literary-historical everyday activity. It is not the identical features which would restore some kind of naive continuity that we should look for, rather the dispositions which are radically different from those of the present, which called for such and not other forms of artistic manifestation at the time, while today they would be inadequate and out-of-date.