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Géza PERNECZKY on Erzsébet Schaár (1996)


The Neoclassical Branch of the Neo-Avant-Garde

There were two others who died of the Hungarian model: Miklós Erdély and Erzsébet Schaár. They both fully understood and experienced 100 percent this artificial swamp of narrow-mindedness and blunt mortal danger, day to day, and they were also the ones who had to pay the highest cost, even though very differently, for their day-to-day struggles with this permanent state. Erzsi has hardly been mentioned, so I should write about her.

Did she have anything to do with the Hungarian avant-garde, or did she simply become a significant artist because she was a significant artist? Of course she did not belong to the Iparterv generation (a group of neo-avant-garde artists operating in the late 1960s). She was married to Tibor Vilt, and thus in fact was closer to the generation of the European School. She, however, refused to be placed among them, and perhaps there was indeed no more basis to this than her birth date.

For decades, she was known as a sensitive portrait sculptor. It was only in the second half of the 1960s that something suddenly threw her in front of the Iparterv group. An outsider could feel that Schaár suddenly stepped over the constructivism, post-surrealism, and abstract expressionism that had been surrounding her, going beyond even conceptual art or things made in the spirit of samizdat, to become a master of architectural space and the human figure. At that very moment, she started to form the pas de deux of human beings and houses out of folding shutters and plastic tablets. I use the reference to dancing in pairs in this way, in this unusually broad sense of the word, to conjure up theatrical tragedy and sacred space, too. The music stops, the figures make a last stir, making polystyrene rustle for a last time, and then they stiffen forever. While the light is withdrawing with a frightened squeak between the mirrors and glass panes standing on both sides, I can see Erzsi holding forth, an ashtray in her left hand, and a smoking cigarette raised high in her right hand, coming forward slowly in this environment, looking behind us, seeking the horizon, her shoes pattering. She was the only living organism in this scenery created by herself, which left every mildly tempered event behind. What was she looking for?

And here we are: autonomy. The inner light, warmth, and independence Hungary was never able to give her. (Think it over: her first exhibitions took place in the 1930s!) This is where she got her obstinacy from, her headstrong hardness, her strength that could desiccate gentleness and create from it dried flowers, with which she walked around in the world and acted in the field of art.


As for the dry facts: her most important work was the one entitled “Street” set up in Székesfehérvár. She built this in 1974, but it stood there only temporarily, for one month: then she herself demolished it. She rebuilt it one year later in Luzern, in a reduced form, and this is the version that can be seen in Pécs today, made of lasting material. However, there are many things one cannot find in this finalized version: forms joined by the tranquility of decomposing leaves, the melancholy of forgotten portrait sculptures, the naturalness of passing, this penetrating and worn mausoleum effect—things that were really personal in her work. It became a sculpture and ceased to be an environment. However, her middle-sized and smaller works did manage to preserve and still radiate her original intention: the superhuman attempt to decide how big her world is and who should be part of it. To catch and hold pieces of furniture, walls, human beings. This world is repeating the classical dimensions of architecture, but can only be the home of human beings made of paper and ephemeral personalities, the residence of such dissolving figures in the twentieth century; a cemetery in front of the gate to paradise, the white consolation garden of those who cannot get in there. It was perhaps this relentlessness and clarity that shattered the whole of the Hungarian avant-garde when Erzsébet Schaár died suddenly in 1975. All of us could see for a moment our place at the light of surprise as it flamed up.

Source: Géza Perneczky, “Produktivitásra ítélve? Az Iparterv-csoport és ami utána következett. I-II,” Balkon 3 (1996): 15.

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