Landing on the moon, John lennon and pop art

Júlia Fabényi, art historian, new director of the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art

MúzeumCafé 37.

Júlia Fabényi, the new director of the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, lived in Germany for 17 years before returning to Hungary in 1990. Since 1996 she has headed several institutes. At the Szombathely Picture Gallery she brought to life “border exhibitions”. At Budapest’s Kunsthalle she first headed the exhibition department and later the entire institute. From 2007 at the Janus Pannonius Museum in Pécs she managed matters in a ground-breaking way and took part in the European Capital of Culture project. In Pécs she realised how differently things work far from Budapest. She applied to be director of the Ludwig so she could again deal with purely contemporary arts. Júlia Fabényi studied archaeology and art history at Leipzig University, after which she worked at the Hungarian National Gallery. From 1977 she was an assistant lecturer in Leipzig, gaining her doctorate in 1983. In 1985 she began teaching at the Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design in Halle, then from 1990 she was on the staff of the Kunsthalle, in charge of the Exhibition Department from 1994. For four years from 1996 she headed the Szombathely Picture Gallery and then for five years was back at the Kunsthalle as its director. From 2007 to 2013 she was a member of the Baranya County Museums’ Directorate and from 2009 co-leader of the PhD course at the Arts Faculty of Pécs University. She has curated many exhibitions in Hungary and abroad, and authored studies and other publications. In 2010 she was awarded the Lajos Németh Prize. In her view the Ludwig Museum has a good international reputation. At the same time, she would like to increase its domestic significance through joint projects with provincial museums. The world is changing and a contemporary museum must reflect developments in society. Artistic life has also changed. Previously the artist created and the work entered a museum where a professional reputation was generated. Critics evaluated it, then dealers gave it a financial value. Since the early 1990s a work of art has become an investment. For a decade the role of museums changed as an effect of the developing curatorial system. The curator’s sphere is primarily the current biennale or triennale, of which about 260 are organised annually across the world. What is mainly in their focus is not museological or even aesthetic values, but rather the role of social criticism. If a curator asks an artist for a work based on this perspective for an exhibition, then there’s a commission. Nevertheless, progressive art is not produced to order. If it is not created as a result of an organic process, rendering current political problems is without value. The Ludwig’s programme involves the art of the second half of the 1970s being presented through monographic exhibitions. Júlia Fabényi would like to deal primarily with the museology of contemporary art, which itself is not a showy project, rather a basis for work, a new definition. She regards the monographic exhibitions as important, as is adapting them to an international context. Not only will the works of individual artists such as Ernő Tolvaly, András Lengyel and Gábor Záborszky be presented, meeting-points will also be in focus – so the works can be connected with international processes. After dealing with several oeuvres, there could be, for example, an exhibition with the title Conceptual Art in East-Central Europe. The exhibition concept doesn’t only involve the monographic approach, the 1990s are reflecting the effect of intermediation. There will also be international exhibitions, staged in cooperation with the Ludwig network. The Ludwig is a well-functioning museum, but from what is good it’s possible to create something even better. Due to fast-changing expectations, even the permanent exhibition might be reconsidered. One aim is to fill the gaps in the collection. Firstly, the Southern Slavs and Italians are interesting, given that the old Monarchy was a geographical-intellectual unity. In addition to purchasing artworks, she would like to research the art of Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Júlia Fabényi has been commissioned to develop the concept for a museum of contemporary art in Budapest’s planned Museum Quarter. A working group, headed by László Baán, has been established with people from the National Gallery, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Ludwig Museum. Júlia Fabényi regards willingness to correct mistakes as the most important of her qualities as a manager. If she sees something is wrong, she is capable of modifying her view and even retracting decisions. While people like to challenge that, she considers it’s a valuable quality, for a director as well as for a human being. People like feudal relations, which she cannot endure. “Don’t hate, love or fear me – let’s talk instead,” she says, believing that things should be approached rationally rather than emotionally.