Hungarian Art: Confrontation and Revival in the Modern Movement

Hungarian Art – Confrontation and Revival by Éva Forgács

By Éva Forgács

304 pages, fully illustrated in color with an index.
December 2016. Softcover.
$32.95 | 9780997003413

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An engaging and insightful collection of essays and rarely-seen imagery that traces the development of modernism in Hungarian art, from birth to maturation and through several generations.

This wide-ranging collection by Éva Forgács, a leading scholar of Modernism, corrects long-standing misconceptions about Hungarian art while examining the social milieu and work of dozens of important Hungarian artists, including László Moholy-Nagy and Lajos Kassák and looks at several permutations of modernism, from the avant-garde to neo-avant-garde. A fascinating portrait of twentieth-century Budapest emerges from the book, which shows how it became a microcosm of the social and political turmoil raging across Europe between the late 19th century and the collapse of the Soviet Era. Forgács’s text is as much a cultural history as it is a deeply satisfying dive into one country’s unique art history.

“I was unable to put down [this book]; one that will be used by those interested in the field for a long time to come.”
– Dr. Oliver Botar, Hungarian Cultural Studies
Read more excerpts and download the full review by Dr. Botar here.

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Forgács works backwards to trace the evolution of modernism in Hungary earlier in the century from her perspective in the dissident scene from the late 1960s to the fall of the Berlin Wall. She also wrote her history once transplanted to Los Angeles, a place where many displaced European modernist figures ended up earlier during and after World War Two, looking out over the Pacific and away from Europe. […] Everybody likes to visit Modernism Central (aka MoMA), but scholars love to rebuke what it stands for. [Forgács’s book] shows that modernism non-central is where this history was forged [and] that the wider transnational approach can transform perspectives on modernism and its histories.
Andrew McNamaraArt History

Éva Forgács is a brilliant guide to the history of modern and contemporary art in Hungary. These essays—whether appraising the achievements of Modern Movement heroes like László Moholy-Nagy or excavating the overlooked practices of neo-avant-garde artists of the 1970s and 1980s—combine deep understanding of modern art with a critical perspective on the many myths which have been attached to it. Hungarian modernism now seems far more vivid.
– David Crowley, Royal College of Art

Éva Forgács has a remarkable ability to condense her cosmopolitan breadth of scholarship into admirably coherent, easily comprehensible writing. She situates the subject of her research within the broader sociocultural context of its times in such a readable manner that it is informative for the layperson and professional alike. We come away with the feeling that our time has been well spent indeed. Her publications exemplify art history at its best.
– Hattula Moholy-Nagy

The leading English-speaking expert on Hungarian art from the avant-garde of the pre-World War I years to the present, Forgács is as astute in confronting Hungarian politics and the nation’s cultural development as she is at elucidating the nature of the artworks themselves. A dazzling intellectual performance.
– Marjorie Perloff, author of Wittgenstein’s Ladder and The Vienna Paradox

Hungarian modernism may be a terra incognita for many but the distinguished art historian Éva Forgács is an invaluable guide to the territory. Her essays are shafts of light illuminating a complex terrain which is not only located at the center of Europe but, given the seismic political shifts that have occurred there, central to the history that defined the 20th century.
– J. Hoberman, author of The Red Atlantis: Communist Culture in the Absence of Communism

A pioneering intellectual survey of Hungarian art in the long twentieth century. Populated by extraordinary figures such as Béla Balázs, whose dream of a great new Hungarian culture amounted to the founding of a new “religion of art,” this authoritative book repositions cultural giants such as László Moholy-Nagy, Lajos Kassák, and György Lukács within a series of fascinating interpersonal, philosophical and political fields. Forgács also entices readers to engage with a host of less well known artists and forgotten initiatives: the European School; the transcendentalist revivers of Malevich; the exponents of the postmodern ‘new sensibility’ of the 1980s; the post-socialist post-constructivists of the 1990s. She challenges canons and attacks key questions head on, provocatively exploring, among other things, whether or not “democracy grows under pressure.” The culmination of decades of sustained research, this erudite publication is an immensely precious resource and a vital contribution to the further exploration of the rich intertextual fabric of European art as a whole.
– Klara Kemp-Welch, Courtauld Institute of Art

Forgács’ book can be heartily recommended to anyone curious about the history of modernism and avant-garde art in Hungary. It is an informative, readable overview enhanced with a variety of viewpoints and excellent examples. Most importantly, it takes on the task of familiarizing an English-speaking audience with Hungarian art. Forgács’ critical intervention is a first step in redrafting the history of Central European modern art, within which national art histories can show their own inner dynamic.
– Pál Deréky and Károly Kókai, ARTMargins


Dr. Éva Forgács, formerly professor of art history at László Moholy-Nagy University in Budapest, has been teaching at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California since 1994. She has a Ph.D. in Art History from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. A former curator at the Hungarian Museum of Decorative Arts and visiting professor at UCLA, she has also been active as a curator and art critic, and has published several books both in her native Hungary and in English, including The Bauhaus Idea and Bauhaus Politics (Central European University Press, 1995; Jelenkor, 2010). She co-edited Between Worlds: A Sourcebook of Central European Avant-gardes 1910–1930 (MIT Press and LACMA, 2002) and has published a number of essays and monographs on various aspects of Modernism in edited volumes, textbooks, and journals.