„I write you because you are there, and I am here” – Endre Tót: mail art works

2016.06.17 - 08.25.

One of the key intimations of progressive art in 1960s-70s Hungary behind the Iron Curtain was related to communication. How could one override geopolitical divisions and initiate discourse between “East” and “West.” How could one uphold the traditional western orientation of Hungarian art as a framework and pick up the cultural threads that were not tied up even as they were nullified by the official canon of art after 1956. The turning point for these issues overriding traditional aesthetic concerns was the genre of mail art, which raised ad hoc contact between artists to the level of networking and reordered the artists’ social perspectives from the early 1970s. Despite the return to a political “hardening” in the period, a few exceptionally active artists made Hungarian visual culture once again a part of international contemporary art.

The best known site of mail art in Hungary was perhaps the apartment in the Óbuda district of Budapest (Kerék utca 3.) from which Endre Tót “joined mail art nearly from day one,” as Jean-Marc Poinsot put it in 1971. After his first successes at the 1971 Paris Biennial, Endre Tót developed his European and overseas network with astonishing deliberateness and an emphasis on an international scope. Recognizing the freshness of genres after painting, he introduced a number of non-traditional media into the Hungarian avantgarde:  he sent cables, questionnaires, postcards, and Xerox works through postal services into all corners of the world. Soon enough, response works began arriving in reply to those mailed, and Endre Tót could consider himself a part of international networking, thanks to  exchanges with artists such as Ben Vautier, Ken Friedman (and his dog), George Brecht, John Armleder, Gilbert & George, Yoko Ono, Meret Oppenheim, Dieter Roth, or from his own region, Bálint Szombathy, Árpád Fenyvesi-Tóth and Marina Abramović.

The latest exhibition at acb NA gallery presents a selection of the mail art pieces dating from 1971 onwards, complemented by a few recent works demonstrating the freshness of the genre. As indicated by the title of the exhibition, postal works and the documentation of mail art actions which opposed isolation served the international dissemination of Endre Tót’s ideas  originating from the 70s. So motifs of rain and zero, the “I am glad…” questionnaires and the brand-like quality of Endre Tót’s face also provided international representation for Hungarian art in the 70s. In order to highlight the truly international and original character of Endre Tót’s work, the selection ranges from communicatively simpler works with short, at times witty, at other times poetic messages to more complex textual pieces that need to be interpreted in context.