'American, born Hungary: Kertész, Capa, and the Hungarian American Photographic Legacy' premieres in Budapest

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'American, born Hungary: Kertész, Capa, and the Hungarian American Photographic Legacy' premieres in Budapest
Martinique, 1972, André Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894–1985), gelatin silver print. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment. © Estate of André Kertész.

BUDAPEST.- Last week, the groundbreaking exhibition American, born Hungary: Kertész, Capa, and the Hungarian American Photographic Legacy debuted at the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Hungary, where it can be seen until August 29, 2024. The exhibition will then travel to the United States, where it will be on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts from Oct. 5, 2024, to Jan. 26, 2025. Following its run at VMFA, the exhibition will travel to the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, New York, where it will displayed from Sept. 26, 2025, to March 1, 2026.

American, born Hungary: Kertész, Capa, and the Hungarian American Photographic Legacy is the most comprehensive exhibition to examine the geographical reach and extensive influence that Hungarian American photographers have had on 20th-century photography.

Organized for VMFA and curated by the museum’s Director and CEO Alex Nyerges, the exhibition is co-curated by Károly Kincses, founding director of the Hungarian Museum of Photography.

“The photography of Americans born in Hungary is an important, but very under-told, story,” Nyerges said.

Hungarian American artists transformed modern photography. Some introduced radical, experimental photographic techniques while others brought with them innovative approaches to photojournalism, advertising and fashion photography. Their encounters with different facets of American life further shaped their approaches to the medium, ultimately leading them to contribute in robust ways to modern photography.

The wealth of intellectual and artistic talent that departed Hungary between the end of World War I and the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 is almost unprecedented in size and effect. This historic emigration included legendary symphony conductors George Szell and Eugene Ormandy, composer Béla Bartók, award-winning film directors Michael Curtiz and Alexander Korda and world-renowned architects and designers Marcel Breuer and László Moholy-Nagy, who is also a featured photographer in the exhibition.

American, born Hungary features more than 170 works and related ephemera from 33 photographers. Included in the exhibition are works by notable photographers such as André Kertész, Martin Munkácsi, Nickolas Muray and György Kepes, along with less familiar names whose photos are instantly recognizable. Robert Capa, for example, was a pioneer of modern photojournalism whose photos of Omaha Beach on D-Day are among the most renowned images of World War II.

The exhibition examines Hungarian photographers working during the period of political turmoil in their home country during the early 20th century, before the photographers began their emigration to European capitals such as Paris, where surrealism evolved in the 1930s; Berlin, where modernism flourished; and in Dessau, Germany, where the utopian Bauhaus art school was a haven for the post-World War I avant-garde.

The focus of American, born Hungary, however, is the impact of Hungarian-born artists on photography in the United States, especially in urban centers such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Through stunning images, the exhibition shows the profound impact of this group of photographers who explored their new country with sensitivity, rigor and insight.

Highlights include works by tailor and photographer John Albok, whose scenes of leisure in Central Park and the 1939–40 New York World’s Fair received critical acclaim; Moholy-Nagy, whose “New Bauhaus” sought to establish the Windy City as a design incubator; André de Dienes, whose portraits of cinema’s icons, including Marilyn Monroe, helped fuel Hollywood’s Golden Age; and photojournalists, such as László Kondor, who documented the Vietnam War and social injustice in America.

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