Bálint Szombathy: Signs of the City and Telephotography

Opening 6.12. 2019 at 19h
9. 12. 2019 - 1. 2. 2020


Bálint Szombathy, a conceptual artist born in Vojvodina in the former Yugoslavia (1950), is one of the key names of the former Yugoslav as well as Hungarian art. His practice included a wide range of artistic activities, from visual poetry, processual art, land art and performance, to conceptual art. Quite early on, he drew attention to his performative projects, such as The Trails (Subotica, 1970), or the photo performance Bauhaus (Novi Sad, 1971), while becoming particularly renowned for addressing the topic of socialist reality in projects such as Lenin in Budapest (1972), when after the end of the May Day celebrations, he provocatively carried Lenin's portrait along the streets of the Hungarian capital. In 1969, he and Slavko Matković founded the Bosch + Bosch group, which represented a platform of neo-avant-garde artists from Vojvodina, Serbia, and Hungary. The group played a significant role in connecting with related movements and artists across Europe, particularly with its access to relevant information from the Western world. However, also within the group, Szombathy maintained the individual position of a "nomadic artist" who embodies the Beuys concept of "art as social sculpture", that is, the end result of the artistic practice is the artist himself, who manifests and self-realises himself as his own work of art.

Szombathy has been dealing with photography in a specific and authentic way since the late 1960s. In the first place, he photographically documented his performances and conceptual projects, such as the Flags project from 1971 or the project 36 Fixatives from 1973. While working as a graphic editor and designer at the daily newspaper Magyar Szó, he became interested in the anomalies that occurred in the telegraphic mode of transferring photographs. In this regard, he began to develop "telephotographs", black and white photographic works including interventions into the basic photograph, repetitive patterns, and micro structures, which may resemble the techniques of collage or montage and were presented in the exhibition projects Telephotography of the 1980s and Suprematists. Most of the projects and works that have been created as a result of Szombathy's interest in the photographic medium in the 1970s were presented in the Photoworks 1971−1981 exhibition at the Vintage Gallery in Budapest in 2010.

Bálint Szombathy has always been seeking to acknowledge insufficiently known or new linguistic forms of visual art. Critical artistic research of the operation and effect of signs in everyday life represents a special chapter in the artist's work. Exemplary is his remarkable observation of the changing environment—he himself says that he "sees art everywhere". The medium of photography enabled him to transform the found motifs, to tear them out of their original environment as "linguistic-aesthetic phenomena". His latest series of photographs, entitled Signs of the City, which is presented at the Photon Gallery, draws from the aforementioned contexts of his work. The series was namely created as a result of contemplations of the artist's environment in Budapest—the depicted motifs are trivial and he particularly documents "civilisational" interventions into the old city, such as the omnipresence of black cables extending over the facades of historic houses, or wires protruding from openings in the buildings, among other things. In a documentary way, the artist has been discovering inconsistencies in the urban structure and capturing various locations and their "signs", thereby creating hundreds of images in the segment of the "topography of everyday life". In this sense, Bálint Szombathy is not merely an important representative of neo-avant-garde and engaged art, but also a theoretician and protagonist of "semiotic art", which also includes the works chosen by the artist from his archive, entitled Signs of the City.

Balint Szombathy participated in numerous renowned international exhibitions in Europe, the USA and Canada i.e. »Body and the East«, »After the Wall«, »Non-Aligned Modernity”, and likewise exhibited in various leading museums across Europe like the Ludwig Museum in Budapest; the Gallery of Modern Art in Ljubljana; the Moderna Museet in Stockholm,; Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin and others. He received a plethora of awards for his work: Lajos Kassák Award, Paris (1989); Mihály Munkácsy Prize, Budapest (2008); the Vladislav Ribnikar Award, Belgrade (2015.); the Grand Cross, a Hungarian Order of Merit, Budapest (2018).