The “artistic achievements” of the Orbán regime

Just as Roman emperors considered it a must to commemorate their reigns with monumental architectural creations, so modern political leaders, especially those with dictatorial tendencies, want their fame to be cast in stone. Over the centuries there have been many happy combinations of rulers with good taste and talented artists. But when both are missing, the results can be disastrous. This is what’s happening to the Hungarian urban landscape nowadays. Viktor Orbán and his friends, who are aesthetic philistines, hire mediocre architects and sculptors. By the time Viktor Orbán finds a profession that suits him better than governing a country, Hungary will be dotted with hundreds and hundreds of mediocre, oversized objects created by the new court artists, the favorites of the regime.

Once, back in 2011, I wrote about Imre Makovecz, the architect whose works I don’t like but whose views I liked even less. He was an ignorant, bigoted man with grandiose ideas. Makovecz died that year, but we are still not free of his style of architecture. Little Makoveczes have been hard at work. For example, the Felcsút stadium’s plans were finished by one of Makovecz’s pupils. And given Viktor Orbán’s fascination with Makovecz’s work, I’m sure that we’ll see more buildings in the near future that reflect his rather idiosyncratic “organic” style.

Another idol of the regime is the sculptor Miklós Melocco. He is such an important person to the Orbán regime that a couple of weeks ago President János Áder gave a gala dinner in Melocco’s honor. The sculptor had just turned 80. Since 2014 Melocco has been among the few who have been designated “artists of the nation.” The Orbán government created this title, which comes with a monthly stipend, in 2013.

According to Kriszta Dékei, an art historian specializing in Hungarian contemporary visual and figurative art, Melocco at the beginning of his career was “a promising talent,” but eventually he “sank into the morass of megalomania.” It’s no wonder that Orbán and Melocco found each other. They both have an obsession with the grandiose and the extravagant.

Ever since the change of regime both Makovecz and Melocco were vocal communist haters, which is more understandable in Melocco’s case since his father was executed on trumped-up charges in 1951. Nonetheless, both men had very successful careers in the Kádár regime. In Makovecz’s case, he and his team designed three or four buildings almost every year. Melocco, right after he finished the College of Fine Arts in 1962, got orders for statues. By the mid-1970s he received the prestigious Munkácsy Prize. He was also the recipient of the Kossuth Prize (1988).

According to knowledgeable people, sculpting monuments or memorials usually doesn’t offer much opportunity for inspired artistic creation, and Melocco ever since the early 1980s has been doing nothing else but producing one monument after the other. And these monuments have become increasingly incomprehensible. I checked out some of Melocco’s works and couldn’t make head nor tail of them. And it seems that I’m not alone. His imagery has become confused and dissonant. It’s hard to decide which monument is more hideous: the Tomb of József Antall or the Árpád Brusznyai Monument.

A few days ago Melocco gave an interview to Heti Válasz from which we learned that he is currently working on a monument honoring Imre Makovecz. It will be a 14-meter-tall steeple that will include a 2-meter-high face of the architect. This new Melocco creation will stand on Ádám Clark Square, on the Buda side of the Chain Bridge, one of the most significant landmarks of the Hungarian capital. Worse yet, Melocco is not working alone on this project. Another sculptor, Péter Párkányi Raab, is also involved. In case anyone has forgotten, he is the creator of the infamous Memorial of the German Occupation which, by the way, Melocco praised highly.

What really upsets city planners as well as artists is that both Viktor Orbán and István Tarlós have already approved the plan. This is not how the process is supposed to work. Normally, first the idea emerges that a monument honoring so and so should be erected. This is discussed at length by the city fathers. If the idea is approved, a proper site has to be found. After the announcement of the decision, the city holds a competition, which is judged by a group of art historians. Once all this is done, the real work begins. But in a one-man dictatorship, it is enough for a “court sculptor” to come up with an idea, name the place where he would like to see his sculpture sited, and “sell the idea” to Hungary’s pocket dictator. Simple, isn’t is? No fuss, no muss.

Since the appearance of the Melocco interview more details and more objections have emerged. Perhaps the best article on Melocco’s crazy idea, which was published in Magyar Nemzet, was written by the architect József Őrfi. Őrfi was a student of Imre Makovecz, so we can’t accuse him of anti-Makovecz bias. Here are some of Őrfi’s objections. The 14-meter steeple would be built right in front of the Buda Hill Furnicular, blocking its view. One normally builds towers on a hill and not at the bottom of a hill. Moreover, the spot happens to be owned by District I, but the mayor and the council were never asked whether they would allow such a structure to be erected there. As Őrfi put it: “in [Melocco’s] authoritarian world it is quite enough to ask two potentates in questions of art.”

Őrfi reconstructed what the Makovecz monument will most likely look like. He took as his model the last church steeple Makovecz built in Devecser, not only because this was the architect’s most recent work but also because it has a shield-like opening which was specifically mentioned by Melocco as one of the features of his creation. Then comes the two-meter face of Makovecz placed in the opening in the body of the steeple. Behind it, Melocco wants to have five poplar trees. It will be a frightening site, says Őrfi. And indeed it will be. It’s enough to take a look at the site as Őrfi imagines it.

Miklós Melocco's Makovecz Monument as imagined by József Őrfi

Miklós Melocco’s Makovecz monument as imagined by József Őrfi

Just as I said at the beginning, great artistic creations have been financed over the centuries by rulers with an artistic sense, but when this sense is lacking, the results can be disastrous. Just think of the National Theater, which was designed by an architect who had never done a public building in her life. Or look at the horrendous Melocco monuments in front of the theater. And what about the latest “talking”Albert Wass monument in Eger? Luckily, something went wrong with the computer and, temporarily at least, visitors can’t listen to their favorite poems. There’s kitsch everywhere we look. This heritage of the Orbán regime may not be the most damaging, but it’s made of stone and brick, which is difficult to obliterate.

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Christopher Adam
Guest

The National Theatre (Nemzeti Színház) is another horror story in Fidesz architecture. I have found that it is widely criticized and ridiculed, even in some circles that are otherwise quite friendly to Fidesz. It reminds me of the hideous, tasteless mansions built by Eastern Europe’s Nouveau riche.

But Melocco’s Makovecz monument – if built according to the image above – would be more horrific than anything else..even worse than the Szabadség tér monument.

buddy
Guest

Dude, I work in the area right next to the theatre, so I literally have to walk past that f****** monstrosity every…single…day. I refuse to even look at it – it is by far the ugliest building in Budapest.

Many people have also told me that it’s even worse-looking inside, poorly-designed for a performance space, and the acoustics are horrible. (I refuse to go inside myself.)

Webber
Guest

If you ever do go into the National Theater, rap your knuckles on the “marble” columns, cladding and statues inside. They look like marble, but they’re all made of plastic.

Member

This Makovecz statue looks like a screwed up cuckoo clock. Wait! This is not a bad idea. The guy’s head would jump out for every hour … and instead of the cuckoo sound he could say something more Hungarian, like Trianon, Trianon, Trianon.

If our late architect saw this visual assault, he’d turn over in his grave.

István
Guest

It seems to me that Imre Makovecz bust atop the monstrosity should replaced with that of the actor Bela Lugosi in full Dracula attire, it would seem a better fit. One small problem however, Lugosi (Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó) was an opponent of Horthy and supported the Communist government in 1919, and in the 1940s here in the USA he became a chronic morphine addict, other than that he would be visually perfect. An added bonus, tourists might recogize him and it would become a summer attraction, tee shirts and such could be sold, possibly even drug dealers could gather to honor his memory.

Wondercat
Guest

A face-presentation of a moustachioed baby… emerging through a winged vagina. Well, well. Time to set aside land for another Statues Park.

Latefor
Guest

Dearest Eva,
I absolutely adore the works of Imre Makovecz! Thank you for bringing his works to
my attention a few years ago! I remember posting his works on my Facebook and everybody was asking about this “uniquely talented architect”. His works mesmerized my Facebook friends. They give me an immediate visual fix! Isn’t that what great art is all about? Beauty, against all odds?

clive75mercer
Guest

If the projected vision of the monument is even only partially true, it’s disgusting, a proposal of a megalomaniac mind. Hardly surprising that Victor Orban is a “fan” !!

nwo
Guest

Eva- I almost entirely agree with you. I also do not like Makovecz’s work, but one should acknowledge that his style and vision are still considered quite original for the period, and his efforts to incorporate some traditional elements into his work admired [by some]. As for the statues, the good news (if there is any) is that there is still room in the outdoor museum in the XXII ker. where the communist era statues are collected to dump these horror shows when this horror show of a regime finally collapses.

MusicLover
Guest

In fairness, Makovecz does have a following outside Hungary, and I suspect if we knew nothing about his political views and if he was not promoted as the “leading” Hungarian architect, we might look at his work more favorably. It is one of the tragedies of Hungary that life is so astonishingly politically polarised that one side totally fails to see any merit in the other, or able to see weakness of their own side. I suspect if Gyurcsány was to erect a garden shed, some people here would be claimed as a triumph of modern building. And Fidesz would probably report it as an environmental hazard!

Jon Van Til
Guest
@MusicLover, Eva, and Buddy Isn’t the built environment an interesting place? I happen to find Makovecs’ creations intriguing, but then I also like the way the new National Theater and MUPA are lit in the evening and the way they glimmer over the Danube from the top floor windows at ELTE. I am moved by the sunken pillars of the old theater as well as the prow of the ship. I enjoy climbing, outside and in, the oddly placed and strangely colored ziggurat. I always say “hello” to Willy Loman and Blaha Luzja. I suppose I am regularly taken with buildings in this part of the world, whether they be suburban homes in the 2nd or tired flats in the 8th. I guess I am an appreciator rather than a critic, but that’s just me. (I also find buildings I love in my other hometown, Terre Haute, Indiana, although many of the best ones there have been razed without a proper application of preservational values.) Sure, it would be a poor decision to elevate the face of anyone above Clark Adam ter, although a well placed monument in the shape of one of Makovecs’ wonderful towers, put in the right… Read more »
GW
Guest

“Why not do our best to make sure that what gets built in his era is the best we all can make it?”

Simple answer: because this regime has no mechanism in place for reception, let alone consideration of criticism, whether positive or negative. That’s how this authoritarian system works: there is no open discussion about the subject and placement of monuments, there is no open call for proposals, there is no juried deliberation of results; the only voice that counts here is that of Victor Orban and he has never shown an ability to modify his decisions in this sphere, they are authoritative and final. So, like all the authoritarian Kitsch from the Soviet-block era, we can now only hope that this tasteless garbage will eventually find its way to a dedicated facility on some far edge of the city.

exTor
Guest

Criticizing art is a dicy proposition. I always think of Stalinist perceptions of what art should look like, should read like, how art should glorify the working class. Stalinism eventually managed to suppress the artistic creativity that emerged after the Bolshevik revolution.

Would this article about Imre Makovecz have been written had he not been a rabid antisemite? Likely not. I saw some of his works. To me, a few were okay, however there is a Disneylandish cutesy kitsch built into Makovecz’s many churches, his vehicles for his idiosyncratic stamp of grandeur.

Evidently Viktor Orbán doesn’t know art, but he knows what he likes, which he feels is not out of sync with most of Hungary.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Latefor
Guest

Who cares about Makovecz ‘s political views? He is DEAD. He suffered from aristocratic superiority complex. So, what? He was a great talent. I must agree with Orban, he obviously has a good eye for picking talented architects!

exTor
Guest

Generally an artist’s politics and that artist’s works should be dealt with separately. In the case of Imre Makovecz, his antisemitism is not irrelevant.

He is not long dead, an important consideration. He is an antisemite, also important in a country where the second-most-popular party [Jobbik] is actively antisemitic (and (perhaps more importantly) antiRoma).

Those who care to may discuss the worth of Adolf Hitler’s paintings or the permissibility of playing Richard Wagner’s compositions, and they may now do so without the ‘taint’ of subject-belief considerations.

Viktor Orbán, who has an unusually high tolerance for antisemites, one that would not be tolerated in the West, did not choose Makovecz solely for his artistic excellence, such as it may be, VO no doubt had other (more personal) considerations in mind.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Guest

Re: The ‘Orbanization’ of Art

I guess we must remember:

‘All art is political in the sense that it serves someone’s politics’
August Wilson

I’d suggest that with the way things are going in Magyarorszag we should not be surprised that a modern day emperor of a former Pannonia will one day see his ‘deification’ chiseled in marble among the kings in Heroes Square.

Orban would like to think he is an Octavian turned Augustus who projected the great Empire on to the world’s stage. But the jury may still be out on whether his administration will degenerate into those of Caligula, Claudius and Nero where life became unhinged from reality and megalomania reigned.

wash30
Guest

Nobody is noticing that Orban has been following the textbook lessons of all other megalomaniacs and tyrants.

The result is loss of freedom, economical and intellectual failure.

The large camp of Hungarian artists and writers are remaining solidly silent.

What is going to end this national shame?

Guest

Those buildings and sculptures remind me too strongly of what Germany had to endure under the Nazis (and later Stalin’s “Zuckerbäcker” style)! Horrible!

Re that lady’s outfit:
The “classic Hungarian garb” you see often on official dates remind me of the conservative Christian Bavarians with their Lederhosen …
This seems typical for those still fixated on a glorious past that never was but often only exists in their imagination.

MB
Guest

All politics aside, I think this is impressively ugly and bizarre, and I actually really like the Nemzeti on the outside (I haven’t seen enough of the inside to comment on it as a performance space, and I can’t compare it with the old building).

buddy
Guest

The old building was torn down in 1965 when they built the metro station at Blaha Lujza Sq., but it looks like it was pretty nice (at least to me):comment image

Member

Could it be that this whole thing is not about Makovecz and his architecture, whether you like it or not? Makovecz is just a symbol, a symbol of art at the service of the kind of politics and ideology that Orbán and his boys want to promote. He is the Token Right-wing-Nationalist Artist. (And fits into this role better than any author – Albert Wass who is too contested and controversial, and anyway, who reads books nowadays? –, or better than any artist who creates “difficult” paintings or any composer whose music will not reach the wide masses.) This is why they plan a bizarre monument for him instead of, for instance, realising some building project of his. And erecting this bizarre monument at such a central location spells it out even to the most stupid: We can do whatever we want, and we will decide what is beautiful.

Webber
Guest

There’s a significant difference between Wass and Makovecz: some people genuinely like Makovecz’s work, including some professional critics. I’ve yet to meet an honest person who likes Wass’s writing. Indeed, I’ve met people who “like” Wass, but who admitted they’d never read a word he’d written, or hadn’t been able to finish the book they started.

pomona
Guest

OT:

Gabor Török, the popular “politologist” now advises Gabor Vona of Jobbik and is also paid by Sandor Csanyi and Zsolt Hernadi (as a kind of private intelligence service provider one supposes) — interesting career.

http://csehszlovakkem.tumblr.com/post/121043812867/kettosmerce-lippai-viktor-kommentje-eleg-nagy

spectator
Guest

When I learned to know the works of Makovecz in the early 70s he was, by any means a progressive artist, significantly different from the mainstream of the time.
Interestingly enough he worked regularly, in spite of this – a clear sign, that wasn’t everyone blinded by the “glorious szocreal”, not even in the higher places.

Contrary to the present, where party-loyalty is the ultimate and omnipotent selector to leave the ‘handprints’ of the era, probably that’s why the Orbanist “art-projetcs” resemble more of random droppings of some huge and clumsy creature marking the territory, I would say.

I am completely sure, this is an added bonus not to live in the proximity of these dreadful “things”, what called “art” in Orbanian…

Buddy, please, accept my deepest sympathy! That building is nauseating, even from the distance!

The only thing seem to be positive of the “phallic vulva with wings” monument above, that it looks like wood, mostly at least. Wood known to burn, alternatively wither and rot away – so there is hope, folks!

buddy
Guest

Haha, thanks, much appreciated.

Latefor
Guest

To Spectator – “The only thing seem to be positive of the “phallic vulva with wings” monument above, that it looks like wood, mostly at least. Wood known to burn, alternatively wither and rot away – so there is hope, folks!”

Makovetc was obviously into pussies! 🙂 God bless him!

spectator
Guest

“Makovetc was obviously into pussies! 🙂 God bless him!”

Must have been one of his best features!
Otherwise fully agreed. Failed to mention, that I did liked his works at those times, before he became the “Royal Purveyor”, for the ‘rich and famous’ of the Kádár era first, later on to the same people, albeit under new political banner this time.

(Otherwise I have to admit we share the same taste – even if not literally, mind you – what you referred at, must be that damn small world, obviously..!)

Guest

Then this might be of interest for you:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pi-Chac%C3%A1n

spectator
Guest

Obviosly a lot of study preceeded this piece of work of art – well needed. Indeed. While I truly apprciate the workmanship, personally I prefer a somehow more tender version, a slighy less public, a more subtle apperance and a wee bit smaller volume…
But maybe I just being too picky to my old age – it could happen, you know 😉

Kavé
Guest

About Wass Albert: a lot of people – not only nationalists but literary critics from Transylvania – consider him to be a good if not great writer of Hungarian poetry and essays. Regardless of this, he did manage to win two German Nazi Iron Cross awards between 1940 and 1945 for his propaganda work…. His poetry, however, has become something of the soundtrack of the Hungarian right wing. It seems that every right wing rock or punk band uses Wass’ obscure nationalist screeds to provide lyrics to their songs. Apropos, the nationalist rock band “Ismeros Arcok” has been “liked” by Orban on Facebook this week and invited to play an event attended by “El Mustache” Kover Laszlo. It seems that FIDESZ is now stealing music fans away from Jobbik!

Webber
Guest

I can’t speak about his poetry, but Wass’s prose is mediocre at best. I felt like throwing one of his books at the wall after reading just two chapters.

Guest

Re: nationalist rock band “Ismeros Arcok”

So no ‘op-rock?’…opposition rock …;-)…to counter the cacophony? Where’s their music on the airwaves and in the arenas? Perhaps a good time to re-create those late 60’s Czech game-changers ‘The Plastic People of the Universe’.

They had a catalytic part in Stoppard’s play ‘Rock’n’Roll’. Their music was an example of ‘living in truth’ to the lies that surrounded everything in his country. Nothing like rock to be its old incendiary self. Rock is always always very good in describing bosses and the games they play. Thanks be to Mr. Townsend and the PPOTU and to Mr. Stoppard. Go on play Who’s Next to tie it all in…;-)…

Guest

I have not been asleep during this discussion on public art. I have just been netless. I apologize for my late comment.

Like Eva I detested Makovecz’ creations before I knew anything about him. My first encounter with his style was in Sarospatak many years ago and I got sick to my stomach.

Among the many interesting comments there is no mention of what previous regimes have adorned the city with. In this category the Parliament Building is my favorite hate object. With respect to size and architecture it is ridiculous. Inside it is heavily gilded kitsch. It is a Disney castle antedating Disney. The neogothic style can be splendid, as in London, and it can be disastrous as in Budapest.

I am convinced that the building has caused many a parliamentarian to loose his common sense if he had any to begin with.

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