“What Could be Exhibited and Where Was Laid Down”

Conversation with BajkayÉva, art historian

Éva Bajkay, on behalf of the Hungarian National Gallery (HNG), was involved with the transfer of Béla Uitz’s works to Hungary. Having just graduated as an art historian, she was sent to meet the elderly Uitz at the station. This sealed her fate in that she became a resolute researcher of the Hungarian avant-garde and its international connections. She worked for years against the trend, as an editor of books and curator of exhibitions, digging into estates and documentary sources. For decades she had to accept that her place of work, the HNG, was much more subject to censorship than provincial museums, and that you couldn’t rejoice over works of abstract art which had been saved and brought to Hungary. Fortunately the situation changed and as head of the HNG’s Department of Graphic Art, as well as exhibitions she also had energy to work with the German Bauhaus institutes to help them recognise the influence of Hungarian artists.

At university she was dealing with the avant-garde. Then she started at the HNG as a trainee. At the time it was possible to organise exhibitions in Székesfehérvár which couldn’t be staged at the HNG and it was thought no one wanted to. Later she discovered documents showing that what could be exhibited where and when was laid down. Avant-garde and ‘western’ arts could not be displayed at the HNG. Other exhibitions could be helped with loans, but more could not be done.

The regulations existed a long time. When a small Bauhaus exhibition was first brought from East Germany it could only be displayed in a Deák Square gallery. In connection with Uitz, it struck Éva that nothing was known about the art of the Hungarian emigration. Then in the late 1960s the Academy of Sciences declared that memoirs and documentary collections should be published. Thus opening up was in the air. 1982 saw the appearance of the first exhibition and catalogue (dealing with Vienna) of the series Hungarian Graphic Art Abroad. In 1986 Éva Bajkay naively believed that then the material could be displayed in Budapest, but the catalogue was not even published in Hungarian. In the series Berlin was changed for Germany, since she wanted to include the Bauhaus. Some of the artists involved were completely unknown in Hungary. Unlike the art trade, Hungarian museums lost a great deal in that for a long time they didn’t pay attention to the avant-garde. The changeover to being more open didn’t only relate to Uitz. While it wasn’t possible to exhibit the avant-garde for a long time, it was possible to make purchases. By the 1990s the majority of older colleagues in the department had retired, and the possibility arose of developing a new team. Éva Bajkay headed the department from 1980 to 2000.