The Eight: Hungary's Highway to Modernism on view at Bank Austria Kunstforum

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The Eight: Hungary's Highway to Modernism on view at Bank Austria Kunstforum
Lajos Tihanyi, Der Pont St.-Michel in Paris, 1908. Privatbesitz.

VIENNA.- The autumn exhibition in the Bank Austria Kunstforum is devoted to the group A Nyolcak – The Eight: Károly Kernstok, Béla Czóbel, Róbert Berény, Ödön Márffy, Lajos Tihanyi, Dezső Orbán, Bertalan Pór, Dezső Czigány. In the years 1909/10 their alignment to the most modern trends that Europe had to offer in art at this time led Hungarian painting into a new phase.

The artists that came to be called The Eight went to Paris and studied the Fauves surrounding Henri Matisse, the painting of Paul Cézanne and the cubism of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Suddenly their pictures no longer corresponded to the traditional style of painting of around 1900 that clung to Late Impressionism and Symbolism. The group was radical and rigorous in abandoning the academic tradition.

“They are not at all eight; a whole new generation is standing behind them,” thus did the critic and Nyolcak friend György Bölöni characterise the euphoric mood of the young intellectuals and art scene in Budapest. Fighting alongside The Eight were writers like Endre Ady, philosophers like György Lukacs, musicians like Béla Bartok, and even magazines like Nyugat (West), who were aspiring towards a contemporary approach to art, literature and music.

The group’s first exhibition together was in Budapest in 1909. The scandal erupted; Budapest society was outraged by the unconventional pictures, dominated by garish chords of colour and unusual rendering of figures. During the following years the explosive group called themselves A Nyolcak – The Eight for their next exhibition in 1911 and continued to paint well off the beaten track of the academies and traditions. The individuality of their members is reflected in the rapidly changing palettes of their picture: after Fauvism they responded to Cézanne’s principles of order, engaged in monumental painting inspired by Classical Antiquity, and became ardent exponents of Expressionism.

The group was an assembly of strong characters who each followed his particular stylistic preferences, thus it soon disintegrated. Only four were left of The Eight by the time the third exhibition took place in 1912. And at a guest appearance in the Vienna Künstlerhaus in 1914 the Nyolcak divided up into two camps: the more conservative Márffy, Orbán, Kernstok and Czigány exhibited in the Künstlerhaus, while the strongly expressionistic and unconventional works of Tihanyi und Berény were rejected by the Viennese jury.

Despite the short duration of A Nyolcak, this branch of the European avant-garde generates a strong impulse – quite opposite to the Austrian painting of the same period, dominated by late Symbolism and most notably by this year’s ruling figure Gustav Klimt. The impression made by A Nyolcak is fresh, a new terrain. This example of Hungarian Modernism has been far too little known until now, and so this exhibition aims to position it on the international scene, as its quality and innovative power deserve.

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