6 October - 30 November 2017

BAZIS contemporary

CENTRUL DE INTERES, Fabricii de Chibrituri street, 9, 4th floor, Cluj-Napoca


Unknown Artists

Curator: Gabor Gulyas


Zsolt Asztalos (born in 1974) lives and works in Budapest. After many exhibitions through Hungary and Europe he represented Hungary at the 55th Venice Biennale with his project 'Fired but Unexploded'. His art focuses on the past in several aspects and uses large variety of mediums: installation, film, video, photograph, graphics.
"Storytelling is the philosophy of the things that have happened - wrote Egon Friedell. Every story is born to an individual, however much the writer struggles to achieve scientific objectivity. The memories of the past are like separate musical notes, which we make into a melody in a certain era and put down in a sheet of music. Each era has its own melody. Each historical memory is waiting to be conceived by the future, so that a reality is formed. The way of thinking about the past or a canon can be formed or changed, as it is not exclusively about the original truth but about ourselves." – explains Zsolt Asztalos.

The name of the artist – introduction by Gábor Gulyás curator of the exhibition

The historic and aesthetic importance of any artwork is mostly defined by the perspective in which we can interpret it. There are three crucial criteria that are positioning the artwork: its social and artistic network of references, the exhibition context and the person of the artist. The last one is the name of the artist, which mostly appears – in form of a signature – even on the artwork. The signature classifies and authenticates. We know several stories from the history of arts, when on a famous work of on important artist his disciples had also intervened, sometimes as much that the artist only had put his signature on that specific artwork. But this gesture was essential for the buyer, as the artwork had largely kept its value through the time because of this gesture. Even in case of artifact fakes the exact reproduction of the signature is an important part of the procedure. There are cases when one cannot distinguish with the naked eye the fake from the original artwork, and there are forgers, who, precisely following the characteristics of a painter, are creating new, autonomous artworks – with morally blameworthy intention to mislead – that raises fundamental questions about the `self standing` aesthetic quality and about the statute of value. From the bronze statues of Rodin there were made several `black castings`: these masterfully enchased artworks have the same aesthetic quality as the authorized ones, but their value is a fraction of the original ones. The value of an artistic photo print is given by the existence of the authors signature on the back of the print – if it is not there, the print has for example no value for a museum. The criterion of originality proven by the signature is defining in a fundamental way the statute of an artwork. The famous statement 80 years ago of the great analyst, Walter Benjamin, has not been justified: he said that the importance of the signature (giving the aura of value and originality to the artwork) will gradually disappear in the 20th century. The person of the author is an organic part of the artwork, marked in most of the cases by the autograph.

And what about the artworks, of which authors cannot be identified? Most of the authors had been worthy forgotten, although we can find artworks of high aesthetic quality, which – against their anonymity – became part of the canon of the art history. There is no important museum exhibition with paintings, in which we cannot find artworks of unknown Flamish or Italian artists. And we can even find more recent artworks from the beginning of the 20th century. What happens when we look at these paintings? We are forced to leave behind most of our stereotypes. We are forced to focus on the artwork instead of the artist, indicated by the name – which finally generates more and more references in our mind. When we see the artwork of a formally educated artist, we just put the question: which school does he belong to? In most exhibitions, the unknown artists are defined as the followers of a famous master or they are representatives of different styles and concepts – but they are always attached to a teleological part of the art history. There are works of unknown artists, which never got out from the storage just because the author is unknown. If in the meanwhile it is revealed that the artwork belongs to a famous artist, the situation changes but immediately – almost independent from the quality of the artwork. For the Western art history the name is almost more important than the artwork itself.

The anonymity of the author is present in contemporary visual art in a different way. For example on several exhibitions organized by the group named Vajda Lajos Stúdió of contemporary artists in Szentendre, we can see labels with the inscription: „work of unknown artist”. In this case the exhibition of an artwork without the name of the author is the clear intention of the artist, just as the unidentifiable pseudonyms in street art and mainly graffiti, as for example the huge impact Banksy pseudonym stands for an invisible person.

The topic of the conceptual project of the artist Zsolt Asztalos is given by the classical artworks, of which authors are unknown. In certain cases this was probably the intention of the author, in other cases it was negligence, that we lately agree to describe as fortuity. `Only` the artworks had remained, that anytime can become renowned, meaning `with a name`, if happens that an art historian discovers the background, that offers the proper base for reputation. Until then these will remain in the storage of the museums: modern countersinks for artworks.