The Central European Research Institute for Art History (KEMKI) is located in the former building of the Adél Bródy (later Szabolcs street) Hospital, in the 13.000 square-meter park, Bókay Garden, surrounding the National Museum Restoration and Storage Center (OMRRK). It offers an extraordinary opportunity for the institution’s historical and contemporary art program to stretch beyond interior spaces.
Bókay Garden provides an excellent venue for the KEMKI program to be enriched with public art elements, making OMRRK a true cultural campus. Our plan in the park surrounding the building complex is to display public artworks of significant artists of historical modernity and contemporary art that can reflect on the institutional and natural environment.
The sculpture garden project already started in 2020 with placing its No. 0 piece in front of the KEMKI building. It is Endre Tót’s pavement plaque (I’m glad that I have stood here, 1998), which was moved here from the entrance of Artpool's former exhibition space.
We have continued this undertaking in 2021 with Airborne Step Formation, a more than six meter high sculpture of the 80 years old György Galántai, founder of Artpool.
György Galántai graduated in 1967 with a degree in painting from the College of Fine Arts in Budapest. Since 1974 he has been making conceptual sculptures using and re-functionalizing found objects, discarded tools, and implements. His sculptural activity is closely connected to the Dunaújváros Steel Sculpture Symposium, as well as to the art colonies of the Csepel Iron and Metal Works and of Rába Works in Győr which provided an exceptional opportunity to create both avant-garde and monumental plastic works in the gray zones of the cultural policy of the seventies and eighties. At the same time, Galántai’s work in these art colonies is a unique example of bridging the gap between the cultural role of industry and labor, highlighted at the level of political slogans, and high culture. Galántai not only took advantage of the raw materials and technologies offered at these factories but also worked closely with the workers, so much so that one of the brigades in Dunaújváros wanted György Galántai to be the eponym of their unit.
The well-known public works of Galántai were made in these art colonies and can be seen in the sculpture park, in Dunaújváros and in Székesfehérvár, ½ X = V (1979), Gate to the Future (1987) and Medium Cultivator (1977).
Today no Galántai statue can be seen in public spaces of Budapest. His Fire Sculpture, which was placed in Kavics Street between 1985 and 1993, now can only be seen in the garden of his house in Kapolcs, after Galántai gave up continuing the endless bureaucratic procedure to licence its public placement.
Airborne Step Formation made in 1983, had also been stored in Kapolcs before it has now been given a proper placement in the Bókay Garden as the opening piece of the sculpture garden project.
This work, like the sculpture Changing Steps (1989), in the collection of the Hungarian National Gallery, is part of a larger corpus based on the motif of sole and step, and related verbal-visual metaphors and word games. Each piece in the series was made using Galántai’s real-size “sole standard” that became his signature. These steel soles, when placed in different object combinations, function as a symbol of progress, transport, communication and, at the same time, subordination, oppression, and “barefoot” humanism as opposed to spiritual, sublime intellectual dimensions. Ethical dilemmas arising from the life situations characteristic of the turn of the 70s and 80s are translated into the language of objects, objectifying the tensions and desire for action provoked by the milieu of the decaying, stagnant, disillusioned state socialism.
In Airborne Step Formation these contradictions prevailing beyond the era are depicted in a sophisticated way. Despite the dimensions of the sculpture it does not operate with the classical modernist monumentality, detached from human scale, but confronts us with the fragility of human existence and its dependence on communities. The set of chained steps on iron bars raised above the ordinary is both a prison and a salvation, an indestructible link with the past and in the present hard-to-predict future. The placement of the six-meter-high sculpture in the garden allows a multi-perspective interpretation of the work: looking out of the windows of the buildings, the step-formation placed at a utopian height is at eye level.
The statue was inaugurated on November 3, 2021 by art historian Dávid Fehér, director of KEMKI.