Lost paintings now on show reveal dark side of retro Budapest
Forgotten in a cellar for 30 years, unique paintings by underground artist Tibor Sóskuti are currently on display at the prestigious Bedő ház beside focal Szabadság tér. Also known as the House of Hungarian Art Nouveau, this beautifully conceived historic landmark now contains the Art+Text Gallery on its first floor. Flooded with natural light, this fine atmospheric space is lined with images that echo an era of dark rebellion. ‘New Wave Icons’ depicts wild characters from the 1980s, the days of street art and counterculture. Sóskuti himself, aka SOSO, fled to Berlin and had not seen these works for three decades until now. The show runs until March 30th.
Artist Tibor Sóskuti presented his 19 works in typically modest fashion to a select gathering of guests for whom this era still holds fascination. Its revered touchstones are cult band Trabant, their songwriter Mihály Víg, his other group Balaton, and all their fellow travelers, musicians, artists and filmmakers.
One was Sóskuti, who shared a flat with Víg’s sister and played with Balaton at their first concert, in a psychiatric institution in 1980. This was, he acknowledges, the first and only time he ever wielded a bass guitar. ‘It was more an anti-concert,’ laughs Sóskuti, aka SOSO. ‘It was chaos.’
SOSO duly swapped his guitar for less conventional methods of communication. Doctoring the slide photos he had made with detergent, he captured the leading figures of Budapest’s underground fraternity in typically radical fashion, making paintings from these images. Artists would gather at the FMK club, where SOSO staged a new wave disco.
‘For six months I also worked at Pannon Film Studios and had access to their Xerox photocopier, so I was able to make images using that as well,’ he remembers.
One of the paintings on display is of SOSO himself, back in the day a striking figure with a huge shock of ginger hair, a tie with no collar and bright silver shoes he had spraypainted. He would not have been a typical employee c.1985.
‘I loved the freedom of using spray cans in that way. Just the hand movement in spraying paint was a release.’
Such was the bohemian milieu of the time that few noticed whenever SOSO was snapping or painting. Featured prominently in the current exhibition is Trabant singer Marietta Méhes, anti-hero of seminal movie Eszkimó asszony fázik, since resident in New York. Associate of the other seminal group of the day, A. E. Bizottság, Kriszta Kecskés, is another featured personality.
Often SOSO created joint artworks with Zoltán Gazsi, aka ZOZO, each leaving a particular stamp on the painting rather than a signature.
With his own studio in a large flat, SOSO was set. ‘I had everything,’ he says. ‘But I didn’t have my freedom.’ In 1978, he had tried to escape to the West but was caught at the border post of Hegyeshalom. ‘I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just remember it being bloody cold.’
Eight years later, he became a dissident for good. ‘The same woman who threw me out before was still in the same job. She processed my application.’
SOSO headed straight to Berlin. His first night there, he ended up at a wild punk night at a local squat. He never looked back.
His paintings, some 800 of them, were kept in a cellar in Budapest until his father had had enough of them taking up so much room. Taking a knife to the canvases, Sóskuti senior cut them away from their frames and left them to gather dust and condensation.
Years later, a cousin of Sóskuti’s found them, left to decay after her uncle’s death. Around the same time, gallery owner Gábor Rieder was rediscovering the iconoclastic joys of Hungary’s underground movement of the 1980s. Last October he collated an exhibition at the Kieselbach Gallery, ‘Pokoli Aranykor’ (‘Hellish Golden Age’), showing posters from Budapest’s golden age of new wave.
‘When SOSO’s cousin got in touch, it was just at the right time,’ says Rieder. ‘I couldn’t believe my luck. It was a rare trove of original art from that very era.’
Rieder rifled through the paintings, some too damaged to display, and set about organizing ‘New Wave Icons’ at the Bedő ház. SOSO duly came down from Berlin. Mihály Víg, now more known for his film scores with acclaimed director Béla Tarr, played at the exhibition opening.
Once the show finishes on March 30th, the paintings will remain in a private collection here in Budapest. Until then, for anyone interested in this period of Hungarian cultural history, the display is well worth a visit. Admission is free – press bell 15 at street level.
‘New Wave Icons’ at Art+Text, V. Honvéd utca 3.
Open Tue-Fri noon-6pm.
More details at Art+Text