The state’s principles vis-à-vis the fine arts are not laid down

Interview with József Mélyi, art critic, new president of AICA’s Hungarian Section

MúzeumCafé 18.

Art critic József Mélyi regularly writes about contemporary art and occasionally works as a curator. He has recently been elected president of the Hungarian section of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA). I asked him about his aims in connection the organisation as well as his own work as an art critic, the role of contemporary art criticism and the situation of Hungarian institutions specialised in presenting contemporary art. The interview also covers the extent to which the work of these galleries and museums is affected by the fact that cultural policy in Hungary has not addressed the social role of contemporary art, as well as what happens when the state gives an opportunity for private companies to apply for finances from the state, and what contemporary art galleries in the provinces can expect. As to why there are only a few art critics in AICA’s Hungarian section, the answer is that it is a broad circle, including curators and art historians. There are only a few criteria for joining. The new president regards it his duty to create a platform where the different approaches and opinions can be articulated amidst wider publicity. Working as a freelance is not easy. When József Mélyi worked for the Goethe Institute between 2003 and 2005, he hardly had time for writing. Yet if you have different types of jobs – and if you are freelance you must accept all sorts of commissions – it is also difficult from other aspects. However, he is not fully committed to freelancing and he may again end up in a nine-to-five job. József Mélyi has been teaching how to write art criticism at the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design. He had a very good tutorial group and would like to launch a blog with the group’s members. He doesn’t think that a single review has any effect, but many regularly published critical writings may have. When artists know that some people are paying attention to their work, then it has an effect on their entire art and the medium as a whole. That is why he writes regularly. In vain does someone write quality reviews, the public would still go for sensational exhibitions. There can be no problem with, no one should interfere with how someone takes a gamble with his own finance and his ideas. If he has enough money he can do what he wants with it. The problem is what could be seen in a work like Wash your dirty money with my art by János Sugár – when art is used as a prestige-making component. You find institutions everywhere in the world which organise, tour and hold such exhibitions. They are purely private enterprises. For example, exhibitions about Tutankhamen can be bought and displayed anywhere in the world. There is no intrinsic problem if someone sets up a place presenting such exhibitions. The problem begins when it is fused with contemporary art. To be established, a private gallery should really have enough funding for years ahead. In contrast, the MEO Gallery had nothing and hoped to get public money, which reflected a specific peculiarity of Hungary’s post-socialist art world. On such occasions public goals may be included in the founding document, such as visual or public education.