György Jovánovics is a sculptor who’s dedicated a half century of his life to plaster, and the Mayor Gallery now presents his first solo show in London – The Relief, From White to Black.
The gallery space on the second floor, different from the storefront ones, feels more friendly and intimate. The walls display different aspects and periods of Jovánovics’s works, sorted by concept of colour and structure. But before we go around the exhibition, let’s have a look at Jovánovics’s oeuvre in more detail. He became a leading figure of the Hungarian art scene in the mid-60s after returning from his studies in Vienna and Paris. An important character from the neo-avantgarde generation and the 70s conceptual subculture in Hungary, he’s exhibited his works all around the world from New York to Berlin.
With his innovations he redefined sculpture in terms of matter and dimensions as well. Since the sixties he’s been almost exclusively loyal to plaster, his preferred medium. Compared to the classical marble or bronze this is of a lower quality, considered fragile and ephemeral. But through puritan tools and forms he seeks philosophical depths, analyzing the connection between reality and illusion and exploring the subject of light and space. His works have hints of history of art, philosophy or even events of everyday life. Often described as conceptual, he rather presents himself rather as a pataphysicist, following in the footsteps of great pioneers like Alfred Jerry, Marcel Duchamp, Rene Magritte or Joan Miro. This underground philosophy, or semi-secret society, aims to point out banalities, the craziness of our lives, thus changing the world, with no exercise of power, but of intelligence.
As you step into the gallery, you see mostly plain, framed quasi-paintings, hanging from the wall. There aren’t the sculptures you would expect in a sculptor’s exhibition, nor figurative, aesthetic reliefs attached to the background. The relief is taken out of its architectural setting and presented as an independent object.
At the entrance I’m greeted by (Hommage a) Kassák, the father of the Hungarian avantgarde. The work is a Jovánovics quotation, acknowledging a debt to Lajos Kassák by referring to his famous journal, the MA (Today) and his geometrical, constructive compositions.
Two walls show reliefs from the period between ‘85 and ‘91. Gazing at the amazingly rich surfaces, it takes time to discover all the forms and colours. The compositions integrate white, greyish and black geometrical blocks, similar to abstract paintings. The surface is broken up, letting shadows draw the forms, recalling Platon’s Cave metaphor. On the next wall a set of five smaller Monochrome works are lined up. Their solid texture’s created by mixing the plaster with paint before casting it. The pastel colours of red, blue and green loom with a waxy blaze, recalling cold marble.
Finally there’s the black and white wall. The newest white works are entitled ‘P.A.K.S.’, possibly referring to the accident of the atomic reactor in Paks, 2003. The pieces look like the reactor’s top-view, as if they were maquettes. The minimalist construction, built up from patterns and three-dimensional figures, results again in shadow-play, allowing the viewer’s perspective constantly to change the surface. The works show his concept of light, and his simple, illuminating way of shaping a message. While the whites in his work seem to evoke the ancestry of Greeks, the Renaissance and the modern sculpture, the black – traditionally an absence of light – is different here: not negative, but elegant and ceremonial.
London’s interest in the Hungarian art scene is clearly growing. For this, serious curiosity and effort to find new perspectives are, of course, vital. Jovánovics’s exhibition took years of organizing, but is well worth the effort. Nothing was better proof of this than the constant arrival – during my visit – of visitors to the gallery and, as I walked out, the next guest stepping in.
György Jovánovics The Relief from White to Black runs at the Mayor Gallery till 28 October 2016.