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Exhibition of works by Botond Keresztesi on view at Horizont Gallery

BUDAPEST.- Several questions storm into mind when glancing at Botond Keresztesi’s latest works. - What intent was guiding the artist when painting such mundane objects and phenomena in utopian associations? – Is he trying to criticize or maybe fetishize mass-produced products, cultural heritage and history? – And most importantly: how does it all come together to be exhibited as a seemingly coherent whole?
The answer for those questions lies in the very rule of contemporary art. In the process of tracking the origins of that rule it is helpful to look at what Ad Reinhardt – Abstract Expressionist and creator of famous black square paintings – wrote about his darkest and most abstract of works:

“… Undifferentiated unity, oneness, no divisions, no multiplicity
…All distinctions disappear in darkness
The darkness is the brilliance numinous, resonance”
(REINHARDT: Art-as-Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt, ed. Barbara Rose (New York: Viking Press, 1975) p.90)

Reaching such a high point of abstraction in the painting of a black square uniting all had left very few roads open for art to progress. Where to grow after finding totality in blackness? Where to look for new resources for art to evolve with history? The quest following such questions led to the admission of the everyday: novelties of the neoliberal economy, mass-produced images and icons referring to objects and subjects of popular culture stepped into the realm of high-culture - from were they were excluded before. Pop Art answered, and did so by grounding the rule according to which contemporary art does not have any rules or limitations – at least regarding its appearance and subject matter. This formula, that there is no real formula, is in full effect today and is echoed between experts and laypeople.

Forms, techniques and subject mater of contemporary art are indeed magnificent and bewildering in both quantity and variety. In fact art can be quite delusory, often leaving the spectator helpless in his attempt to make sense of an artwork based solely on its appearance. A well-know example for such deceptive art – also from the 1960s, like Reinhardt’s black canvases - is Warhol’s Brillo boxes. Arthur Danto, the late American philosopher, argues as follows: Brillo boxes in a gallery that can be mistaken for Brillo boxes from the supermarket cannot be specified in terms of their visual distinctiveness, thus have to be characterized philosophically. The difference between art and non-art has less to do with art being the more beautiful object, than the intent or idea behind the work. Art transformed itself into an arena of universal permissiveness, in which the shuffling of styles and patching together of narratives becomes possible. After the fulfilment of the abstraction project, beyond the demolished wall between art and the everyday there is no progress. The arrival of the “end of art” however does not really strike Danto. In his reading we have arrived to a vast field of freedom, never to leave. Artists indeed have everything - their own and other people’s bodies, found images and objects, signs and symbols, historical motifs and countless resources of material - at their disposal to be assembled in novel reconfigurations.

Roaming in freedom does not depress Keresztesi either. In one of his recent paintings we see a waterfall transforming itself into the shape of a gothic cathedral, while a military plane is about to vanish behind the mossy rocks. Another work depicts an artist immersed in his practice, in a way, how Kazimir Malevich would have remained unbothered by a human-size drone attempting to land on him, while perfecting his Suprematist Composition. “Logically” it comes natural that this piece is painted in the style reminiscent to that of the Delft ceramics. A different painting depicts alarm clocks hovering in space showing years of Hungarian historical events, as if they were abandoned thoughts. A Lamborghini Countach bleeds lava on fossils of the Nike logo and on elements from Communist symbolism. A key of a BMW is left in some weedy flowerbed.

Keresztesi feels at home on the “freedom-land” and does not stick to one or two narratives. He interconnects and juxtaposes because he may do so. It would be odd to be reminded of how nothing is shared between Malevich, a drone and Dutch ceramics. And so knowing that such mixing is not an outrageous crime anymore, we shall move beyond the surface and attempt to point out the artist’s intent.

First off we might wonder if Keresztesi’s aim was to fetishize the depicted objects, structures and subjects by placing them into his individual correlations. But a car key found in the thicket falls short from the radiance of a new BMW in the garage. An outdated Lamborghini, a scribbled Nike logo and burning Google Chrome meteors do not pay tribute to those brands, nor attempt to elevate their products from their mundane positions. Criticism seems more plausible, however not necessarily in the case of the brands, as Keresztesi understands what they are. The brand, that the logo represents, floats free from the product as a symbolic character that personifies a specific combination of values. By inserting them into his autonomous mixture, the artist takes their relevance away making them dependent on the myriad factors of their environment, therefore questioning their durability.

Keresztesi treats historical and art historical references a bit more rough. A Vasarely is being rent meaningless, however the remains do not vanish. A gothic cathedral, generic apartment blocks, armoured cavalry are escorted into play to jointly make a comment on historicism.

The past seems to have direction from the chaos of today. Was the past really coherent? Or does the all-encompassing unity of Ad Reinhardt seem so self-assertive only when looked at from the confusion of today? Keresztesi seems to be doing fine in a world without a meta-narrative. Strictly speaking he even doubts its existence in the past. He settled in this realm of vast freedom and plurality but did so with a wry smile. Against the wide variety of references, Keresztesi’s painting is stringent, organized and precise. All that is painted on the canvas stay intact from each other; there is no amalgamation or fading. The borders around the neighbouring motifs are crystal clear. Canvases of equal size: one square meter. Simple squares - just like Reinhardt’s black ones – carrying the confusing manifold of today on their unified surfaces. Perhaps such contrast is here to anticipate that absolute freedom is one form of unity, that randomness and mixing results in a greater homogeneity. Maybe art - together with us – have settled in the version of its very own plural system, which sustains it.

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