Works by Sándor Altorjai, Artpool P60, 19–30 October, 1998

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Aleatoric Demontage or Picture Installation?

Introduction to the S. A. pages*

The expression “Aleatoric demontage” frequently appears in the titles of Sándor Altorjai’s last (1979) pictures, so I would like to add a few thoughts related to its interpretation. I also hope that I can explain why I felt the inclusion of Altorjai’s works in Artpool’s installation project important and why I did it simultaneously with Miklós Erdély’s oeuvre exhibition in the Kunsthalle.

The musical notation aleatoric means that a work’s rendition is left to the determination of its performer. As opposed to montage, which means putting together, mounting and assembling the term demontage means: take apart, dismount and disassemble. Hence, “aleatoric demontage” in a title is a notation to disassemble in an improvisatory way. Since the act of disassembling does not refer to the creation of the work, I am led to believe that aleatoric demontage represents a way of thinking (or worldview) that uses the principle of installation (=fitting, equipping). Why? Because installation is the only “art form” (mode of existence, medium?) without predetermined (fixed) time and a completed work, since it is only the life of the artist that is “completed,” i.e. ends. Strangely, in Altorjai’s case the end result always manifests in picture form, which is why his pictures can be called picture-installations.

The same applies to Miklós Erdély’s “text-picture-installation,” i.e. his “Self-assembling Poetry” (photo documents about him noticing something connected to himself and left like that). Demontage is a subconscious operation, the aleatoric notation, the noticing is subconscious, and only the “leaving it like that” (the picture) is conscious. The “aleatoric demontage” worldview is a construction, a node, a hidden parameter, thus a kind of explanation for the friendship between Altorjai and Erdély.

In the last (46th) year of his life Sándor Altorjai “assembled” almost all of his previously made works into new ones. He freed himself of all the bonds of time (the probable) in his “picture installations” of 1979. He elegantly arranged his unavoidable departure, in a way only the greatest can do (e.g. Ray Johnson). The open masterpieces of a finished life have preserved their functionality despite not being widely known and studied.

Visually, Altorjai’s “picture installations” are somewhat reminiscent of pop art assemblages with the major difference being in the content and not the appearance of the works. Altorjai banished and/or compressed time, i.e. the time he lived through. He boldly sacrificed the works linked to the real (probable) time he lived through in order for multi-time pictorial information to come into being, which could not be imagined and conceived in any other way.

The destruction of his own works through reuse, and the integration of his old works into new ones are rooted in an approach which, looking at it from the perspective of the past, respects only intellectual values. From the perspective of the future every work can be part of the probable, and I would like to quote Flusser here: “Future and possibility become synonyms, time becomes synonymous with ‘becoming more likely,’ and present becomes the realization of possibilities in form of images. Future turns into multidimensional compartments of possibilities that unravel outward toward the impossible and inward toward an image realized in the present.[1]” In this context the individual (the artist) is not the “author” but rather the permutator.


The “Uncle Gaga” pictures (1971) are calligraphies made with drip technique, thus from a retinal perspective nothing new appears to have taken place. Dezső Korniss had already made non-figurative calligraphic pictures between 1956 and 1963 and drip painting spread in Hungarian art under his influence. The Altorjai pictures introduced real change by being recreated conceptually through their titles and thus they made a fundamental break from their already known antecedents. The relationship between a picture and its caption became one of installation, where the picture is an aleatoric notation while the title demontages (disassembles) the picture. This relationship between picture and its title – as a basic principle – contextualizes Altorjai’s entire oeuvre.

Sándor Altorja’s “invention” provoked highly critical feedback in the press and prior to this in the party (Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party – MSZMP), and it was because of this that from then on cultural policy classified him as banned. This was why his work Excuse me! was banned in 1976. As a response Altorjai had the title of the picture changed to Painting for the blind (Excuse me!). From this it transpires that in Altorjai’s case innovation did not take place in the picture but rather in the context. For him the picture was not independent of the context; it was not a constant since he saw the picture rather as a kind of communication or discourse. In this context the art becomes a mere tool, and the expression of ethics and attitude becomes more important. It is therefore no coincidence that in 1981 Altorjai’s friend Miklós Erdély expressed what had to be done in his proclamation titled “The Features of Post-neo-avant-garde Attitude”[2] in his Optimistic Lecture.

The entry of post-neo-avant-garde “attitude art”has not yet been included in any scientific art publication or indeed in any artistic science publication. If at some time in the future there will be such an entry, Sándor Altorjai will be given a good place there, i.e. in a Flusser-like sense he is the artist of the future. (“From now on the road leads not from the past into the future but from the future into the present.[3])

György Galántai (1998)

p.s.: “I have always known that being successful in this rat race of vicious (idiocy) stupidity and corrupt dim-wittedness can only be humiliating, and would only make man even more ignoble and idiotic [...]” – S. A.[4]


Source: (English translation: Krisztina Sarkady-Hart)

[1] Vilém Flusser: Die Schrift, Immatrix Publications, Göttingen, 1987. In English: Does Writing Have a Future?, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis – London, 2011, p. 150.
[2] Tartóshullám [Permanent Wave], Bölcsész Index antológia, 1985, p. 143.
[3] Flusser, op. cit., p. 150.
[4] AL (Artpool Letter) No. 7., January 1984, “Sándor Altorjai” supplement, p. 23

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