Krisztina Üveges: Oriental and Occidental

Landscape, humidity, mountains, flowers, clouds. Layers of overlapping color outline the barely perceivable, just suspected natural formations. The harmony of the landscape is never interrupted by a human being; the final essence of the elements is what we are seeing here: stone, moisture, air – they present themselves in their own raw essential form. We can nearly assume that we are not seeing concrete landscapes, the natural motifs are just display tools of internal images, images that are expressions of lyrical majesty, of power, of loneliness. These are the threads that tie the works of Ágnes Kontra into the tradition of European Art.

The picture elements appearing in Ágnes’s art, balancing on the borderline between abstraction and realism, but refusing to tilt in either direction, have come into being as a result of many years of study.  Pursuant to the views ofMarcel Duchamp,[1]a work of art is based on two pillars: concept and form, these two constantly approach one another but never actually make contact; in other words, there is an eternal hiatus between the thought that arises and its expression in language/form. I believe that Ágnes is working along this boundary zone, she is endeavoring to communicate her fundamental experience regarding the world.

Awaiting expression, her topics are time, motion, space modulated by light; this is a very important factor to state in connection with her art, for even though her paintings give great joy with their colors, their silence or their harmonious sense of style from the very first glance, their creator is first and foremost not those things. Even though the natural motifs derive from an observation of reality and are the results of a cognitive abstraction, they arise within all of us as a familiar primal image. In spite of the absence of a human shape, the starring role belongs to the human being, the spectator whose perspective includes these visions for us. For Ágnes, these are just rationalizations so that she could work philosophical and art concepts on the boundary between real and unreal, visible and invidible.

A more in-depth analysis of the paintings of Ágnes Kontra is also a possibility. When we examine her works from a direction that is not based on European culture, we can discover additional potential interpretive realms. Her travels in the East may provide the key to these: She had been to many Asian countries, yet her interests are not focused on the exotic embodiment of being different, of cultures considered contrary to Western culture, and multiculturalism, so trendy since the nineties, is also alien to her.[2]

It would be an exaggeration to draw parallels between Japanese and Chinese art and the works of the Hungarian artist, but we must pay attention to the parallels in cognitive ideas that were derived from her experiences. Her landscapes, paintings of flowers and clouds stand-in as katuata or haiku before the spectators awaiting initiation. These two types of poetry are literary and educational phenomena in one, but they do not explain or teach something. The objective of both is to encourage the pupil, the reader to meditate and experience enlightenment, thus they are more than mere text; they are also objects of meditation. The concept of time from the Far East is definitely present in these literary works: Instead of seizing on the rushing time as a subject matter, the author freezes a moment and projects it to a measure of timelessness.[3]

Ágnes Kontra’s work also offers this opportunity: the delicate shades, the brushstrokes bear significance, for they point to not the surface of the painting, but to provinces that transcend the painting, to the existence of a momentary movement fixed in time, to its significance. When we expand our focus, we can become enriched with additional details: The spatial positioning of the mountain or the road balances her compositions and the rhythmic groups of clouds or flower petals fill them with life; just as in Eastern art, nature is never motionless or lifeless on her paintings, As we observe her seemingly calm paintings, thanks to the layered swaths of paint, the natural elements appear to move, to breathe, in different directions.

These are the artistic and substantive values that definitely make the works of Ágnes Kontra noteworthy. We might say that the East and the West are simultaneously present on the paintings; we can rejoice over the harmonies or we can even allow our gaze to rest upon the observation of individual brushstrokes. The openness of Ágnes’s artistic vision enables the spectator of her work to liberate his/her mind, without boundaries.

Krisztina Üveges - Art Historian
Ludwig Museum - Museum of Contemporary Art

[1] Nikoletta Házas:  (Ideal Locked in a Box). Marcel Duchamp. L'Harmattan Kiadó, Budapest, 2009, 79−101. o.
[2] Of colonialism existing in art, see Lucy M. Lippard: Mapping. In: Art in Modern Culture. An Anthology of Critical Texts. ed. Francis Frascina, Jonathan Harris, The Open University, Phaidon Press Limited,  London, 2003, p. 160 – 169.
[3] Török Attila: About haiku New Symposion, 1991/1-2 or http://terebess.hu/haiku/torokattila.html  last download 21.08.2014.
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