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Sculptural drawings = visual essay.
10 years at the border of forms of art

At the turn of 89/90, in Budafok just as everywhere in the country, politics, having reached a crisis, was getting ready to dismiss its faithful maidservant, culture. We believed that a new form of art, itself the result of a transition and born in an attempt to fill a professional vacuum, would fill the resulting spiritual vacuum appropriately. The time came when we had to create publicity for the sculptors’ drawings, lurking in the noman’s land between sculpture and the graphic arts. We wanted to reveal to the world the rarely seen treasures of a profession, its testimony of itself and the world manifested in lines. The exhibition of sculptors’ drawings documenting the development of artistic thought like a travel log – after the centuries they spent out of the limelight – was timely on two counts. Firstly, because with the passing of the academic approach, which was forcibly protracted here, the public were searching for the fallible, sensitive man, the creator struggling with expression behind the works of “cool perfection”, with increasing urgency. Secondly, due to the moral deterioration of public sculpture that had taken place in the meantime – and, for many, due to material or political necessities – sculptors were also more prone to turn towards the more intimate forms, and honest emotion as well as intellectual fire manifested in smaller dimensions. In such an atmosphere of searching for the intimate, along with small sculptures and medals, sculptors’ drawings also gained value and the status of independent works of art.

The first national exhibition, held in May 1990, already brought the professional and public success we had hoped for. The noble tradition, which we wished to salute by showing the drawings of our classical masters, exerted its influence.

Dezső Bokros Birman, Miklós Borsos, Béni Ferenczy, Ferenc Medgyessy, Tibor Vilt provided examples to the younger colleagues exhibiting their drawings for the first time of how the hand of the sculptor could be driven by the same intention when working the surface of paper with pencil or pen and when grabbing the chisel.

In her opening speech, Magdolna Supka, the “Grand Dame” of Hungarian graphic arts, stated the importance of intimate studio work, and mentioned with approval the graphical value of certain sculptors’ drawings, appointing them places among the best pieces of Hungarian drawing.

In addition to the variety of creative personalities, the exhibition also set forth the variable possibilities of approaching sculptures in drawing.

From the sketchy representation of the natural phenomenon – the model – through the visionary representation of an internal view to the exacting study drawing, each style used its own adequate means to conquer its essential target, the third dimension. But in most instances, contrary to the procedure of painters and graphic artists, it did not submerge its object in the virtual space, using optical and atmospheric tricks to emphasize the depth, but, rather to the contrary, disrobed it of its environment, a mere annoyance, and pulled it out into the real world.

And already at the first exhibition we witnessed the characteristic – analysed in more detail later (during the symposia) – that sculptors’ drawings use the line as a structural element in a way similar to the mural forms and miniatures.

At the second national exhibition it was proven that that was indeed the common element in the Hungarian sculptors and those who were sent a friendly invitation to join from abroad (from Holland to Japan): a different relationship between plane and space, the use of the line as an element of plasticity. After the exhibition, the international symposium entitled “The Meeting of Dimensions” tried to circumambulate that exciting moment of the changing of tracks.

The comprehensive essay by Tibor Wehner that declared the birth of the form and sketched out its past and possible future were elaborated further by the contributions of the sculptors and historians of art present, enriching it with fine details and new theoretical aspects.

The objectives formulated in the closing document of the symposium were summarised in Tibor Wehner’s preface to the catalogue of the 3rd International Biennial of Sculptors’ Drawings as follows: “Using the title, or theme ‘The Prehistory of the Form’ was intended to summarize the central thought, the guiding principle of the exhibition, namely that the process of the birth of the form manifesting in the sculpture should be, could be sensibly revealed to viewers by presenting the planar preliminaries, surviving as pictures, of the objectivisation of the concept, the development, formation of individual ideas. Perhaps we would also get an answer to the question of the possibly heretofore hidden systems of relationships, possibilities of creativity, characteristics of method that are assumed by sculpture and drawing, object and graphic art.“

In the opening speech of the exhibition organised at the Nagytétény Castle Museum, the sculptor Tamás Vígh developed a delicate parallel between the ancient Middle and Far East, where drawing and sculpting – spirit and craft – were the duties of different persons, followed by a long struggle by the sculptor to gain the status of artist, and the end of the 20th century, now, when that primary spiritual self-expression of the sculpture is trying to gain authentic recognition, following the example of those great predecessors. “The present biennale of sculptors’ drawings seems to be trying to answer the problem of sculpting and planning it, the problem of the ideas and the drawing of sculptors. Its form, a fruit of art that has existed for long but has not been recognised as a form of art, hence not receiving much recognition, the drawings of sculptors… Can we call the present biennial of sculptors’ drawings a piece of art itself? It came from nothing, and now we know that its non-existence was a deficiency, although there have been graphic artists of genius among sculptors in many quarters of the world.”

In the opening speech of the symposium, the historian of art László Beke, while he mentions with reservations the Renaissance disegno-theory, which claims that drawing is the foundation of all art, all visual thinking, provides a wise summary of the possible manifestations of the sculptor’s drawing. “There are innumerable reasons why sculptors use drawing instead of their own, burden-some materials. The most important case is always when the sculptor intends to create an independent drawing (related to his sculpture), for instance the heavy, block-like patches of Richard Serra. In addition, he may draw to make notes of his sculptural ideas, to test formal solutions in the course of developing the ideal composition, to show his visual conceptions to other people, or to instruct the manufacturer with the drawing. ”Sculptors’ drawings are a sort of design, without which one would be ill-advised to begin implementation… they remind us of the relationship between the engineer and the factory worker… they are reminiscent of architects’ drawings in the same way sculpture sketches of clay, wood or plaster of Paris resemble the models or maquettes of buildings. The last statements firstly take us back to the emperor’s court in the ancient China mentioned by Tamás Vígh, where the designer – graphic artist – and the manufacturer – the actual sculptor – were different persons. Secondly, they foreshadow the themes of future symposia in which we intend to circumambulate the relationship between sculptors’ drawings and architects’ drawings – architecture with sculpture – as well as design.

“This is the fourth one:

the fourth exhibition in the series of biennials dedicated to a strange, special form of art. The yearbooks shall remind us that in the spring of 1996, one hundred and thirty-three artists from twenty-five countries showed their work in the exhibition halls of Budapest, at the thematic exhibition entitled Four Elements here, in the Vigadó Gallery and the neighbouring Csontváry Hall. The chronicles shall also recount that the works of artists who had received awards at earlier biennales – also an international team – are put before the public at the Andrássy út gallery of the Goethe Institute. And in two weeks, another exhibition shall be opened at the Szent Kristóf Jazz Gallery in Budafok, followed, as usual, by a theoretic symposium, completing the schedule of events” (opening speech by Tibor Wehner). As it was the year of the millenium, after Béni Ferenczy, Rodin and Henry Moore we again selected a Hungarian sculptor, Ferenc Medgyessy, to be the spiritual sponsor of the exhibition. It was his “Scrubbing Woman” that took our news to the world, and which turned the attention of the sculptor community towards Budapest for a moment. Despite the increasing amount of interest from ever farther parts of the world – due to the lack of financial conditions and the institutional background, and because the zeal of spirited private individuals could no longer perform the work of organisation, now extending all over the world – we only planned a national exhibition for 1998 entitled “Gates of Spirit”. On the other hand, in order to extend the content, we showed our work together with architects, and discussed theoretic and topical practical problems that concern the two professions equally. And if the externalities, the number of participants of that event was not as prestigious as those of previous ones, the amount of material amassed (both in terms of drawings and of thoughts) urges us to continue, forming an important link to the great future: parades, whose outlines are beginning to take shape here. Opening towards the Young and the great masters of olden times: that will be the concept of the next biennale, to be held at the turn of the century, and in fitting surroundings.

And if there will be exhibitions, there shall be a need for theoretic symposia as well. Because that which Attila József was urging for literature in his time – the clarificatory rethinking of concepts – is still required today in the fine arts, especially in sculpture. And because the sculptor, before he begins to work, cleans his tools of the mud and clay stuck to them, and then starts to give form to yet another tiny piece of chaos.

(Gates of the Soul. Symposium of the 5th International Sculptural Drawing Symposium, 28 November 1998, pp. 5–14)

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