Fotograf Magazine

If I Saw that in a Gallery, I Would Say, this is Art

It was news in 2001 that at the Painting- By-Numbers exhibition in the Eyestorm Gallery, London, a certain Emmanuel Asare, a cleaning worker, had carefully collected and discarded part of Damien Hirst’s installation. Asare would be hard to  blame, as the destroyed element of the installation consisted of cigarette butts, empty beer cans and half-full coffee cups, which, in accordance with the artist’s intent, referred to the artist’s studio, but from a cleaning point of view rather referred to the gallery’s previous evening party. After the case, Hirst himself was said to have had a lot of fun while picking out the ingredients from the trash, restoring the artwork based on an earlier photograph.

But what happens the other way around if we still consider an object, not made of artistic intent, to be so? – the book, If I  saw that in a Gallery I Would Say this is Art asks in the introduction. The title is actually a condensed concept of the publication, as in the 122-page artist’s book we see a collection of found urban photographs, and each piece would work in a contemporary art context. The special aspect is that the photographers themselves are visual artists, as who could better decide what counts as art? At the same time, publishing the collection is an ironic gesture, as the installations found ready on the street, celebrated in the exhibition space as an objet trouvé, could even have been done by the artists themselves as  original artworks. The institutional critique is further strengthened by the fact that some of the texts were written by young Hungarian curators as professional artwork descriptions, and quotations from classical authors as if we were actually flipping through an exhibition catalog.

In the book, the arrangement of the images follows iconographic aspects, so the photos collected from different artists are mostly presented in thematic blocks, creating a dialogue on each page. Thus, for example, Botond Keresztesi, Gábor Kristóf, Nico Müller and Emese Erdélyi also dealt with the art of parking reservations in Budapest, when citizens trying to occupy a piece from the public space used the most varied materials and tools (ladders, furniture, tiles, metals). A separate group in the book is made up of images from shop windows and market booths, which would bear the handprints of renowned designers in better times. In this context, however, the abandoned or half-organized booths and showcases are much more interesting, as the incompleteness or the DIY character causes the conceptual artistic crosstalk.

The best example perhaps is a photo by Márton Mózes Murányi, which shows a yellow bottle rack similar to Duchamp’s emblematic Bottle Rack in a shop window, but in this case made of molded plastic and decorated with two unlabeled empty bottles. The artists’ book also includes pictures of professional motif collectors of the Hungarian art scene such as Gruppo Tökmag (Tamás Kovács Buddha, András Tábori), who made a series of pictures of socialist style concrete flower boxes, or Gábor Csongor Szigeti, who has been collecting urban antennas for years among other things.

This book is full of pictures that anyone can see every day roaming the streets of Budapest or any big city, yet it never occurred to them to take pictures. The images not only reflect the artists’ attitudes towards art and, of course, everyday life, different from ordinary people, but also inspire us to look at the big city mess for at least a few days and recognize the numerous possibilities of hidden art installations. The book has been nominated for the 1st Rosti Pál Hungarian Photobook Award in 2020.

Beáta Istvánkó