“We thought young art historians would start flooding in”

In conversation with Júlia Klaniczay about the Artpool living archives

Artpool Art Research Center, founded in 1979 by Júlia Klaniczay and György Galántai, has Central Europe’s largest collection of underground art with a reputation abroad. It operated illegally until the political changes in 1989 and as a pubic non-profit organisation from 1992. A part of the collection entered the Museum of Fine Arts – Hungarian National Gallery through the Értéktár programme of the central bank of Hungary and the rest was bequeathed by the co-founders in late 2015 and now it functions as an independent organisational unit. According to plans, it will be part of the Central European Art History Research Institute, to be established on the area of the National Museum Restoration and Storage Centre (planned to be built by the end of 2019).

Júlia Klaniczay explained how what started as an art action turned into a private archive and then a public collection. First Artpool was linked to György Galántai’s art: it was an art project not an archive. When Galántai graduated in 1967 he felt he had only mastered techniques and was at a disadvantage compared to those who did not have a degree but personally experienced the Avant-garde. He created parallel realities and existed in them. He was looking for ways to inject some life into the rather uninspiring art scene of the time. Throughout its entire operation, Artpool had countless projects addressing global issues from different angles.

An art archive is different from traditional archives, even in how it is built up. Artpool always placed usage at its focus and its structure developed adaptively. At first, its material was systematised by artists and geographical locations.

Then came a time when the archive started living a life of its own, split off from the original art project and grew beyond its founders. The first itemised database, a card catalogue, was compiled about the artist’s books. To a great extent, the archive facilitated Galántai’s artistic activity. Exchanges and cooperation are the most efficient way of growth; exciting project calls can also do a lot, if talented artists submit projects to them, but then comes the curating: the material needs to be arranged, thematised, presented and installed.

After the change of the political system, the founders expected a blast of interest in the archive, thinking it would be flooded by young art historians. And for more than ten years – with a slight exaggeration – not a soul came. Vast tomes were published by the Slovakians, Czechs and Poles, who got down to researching the period of socialism and non-official art immediately after the political changes. In Hungary only two or three volumes were published, practically without any previous research. The first researchers in the Artpool archives were foreigners: Germans studied the networking activity of the 70s-80s, and American researchers analysed samizdat art for their academic theses. Of course the situation has changed since then and Artpool has attracted numerous Hungarian researchers in the last twenty years.