When on the occasion of Ágnes Péter's exhibition one wants to say something about Hungarian sculpture in general and about contemporary sculpture in particular one embarks on a task made nearly impossible by lack of space for a start. Still, placing her art In a wider context in order to understand, evaluate and popularise it requires a few introductory generalisations.
The Hungarian sculpture of the last fifty years was not fully and typically representative of the art produced in the former "Eastern Block" countries during the time as, thanks to significantly different economic and political conditions, the Hungarian art world enjoyed a degree of freedom and up-to-date-ness higher than was possible in most of the other countries of the Block except perhaps in Poland where conditions were comparable to those in Hungary.
Thus, parallel to official political monument art, the early sixties saw the appearance of elements and representatives of Pop Art, Minimal Art, Conceptual Art as well as mobile sculpture In Hungarian sculpture. Small-scale sculpture was a particularly strong suit, and, in contrast to other (richer) parts of the world where it has an ancillary role In the drafting and modelling for "proper" monumental sculpture, represented a central trend in Hungary. Parallel to these developments, a form of Arte Povera also made its appearance in sculpture: rusty materials and scrap metal were used, and this has been a strong and distinct trend up to this very day.
The so called Change of 1989 did not signifcantly modify the general picture except in one aspect: Communist political sculpture disappeared from the scene.
This is the very sketchily drawn backdrop against which Ágnes Péter's works should be seen and appreciated.
Ágnes Péter completed the sculpture course of the Hungarian College of Art in the late 1970s. Ever since she has been a regular contributor to international, national and local group exhibitions. The list of these exhibitions shows that she is a very prolific artist whose work as a sculptor goes beyond the classical limits set by bronze, iron, steel and stone: she has experimented with a range of materials including glass, chamotte and ceramics. The list also shows that she is a regular participant of art conferences and symposia where her contribution is always marked by the depth of her intellectual seriousness.
Recently, she has put her organising talents to use as board member of ECA and she has worked as an art teacher in the last decade.
The question arises almost automatically: how can she find the time necessary for her own artistic work among all these activities and involvements. The list gives an answer to this question, too: Ágnes Péter's character strength and her capacity for seemingly infinite work, qualities well-known to her friends and acquaintances, make all this possible.
Her work ranges between two extreme poles: large-size spectacular metal works on the one hand and small-scale cast-bronze statuettes.
She is the master of an ancient technology, which has been rarely used in the last few centuries: this is the "wax-loss method" of bronze casting. It is closely related to ancient metal crafts of the period of the Great Migration including Hungarian metal crafts. This bronzes use and teinterpret the most ancient signs. They show the primeval elements, fire, water, air and earth in a form of transcription as they are transubstantiated into bronze. This figures function as emblems-in-space since, apart from their primary aesthetic effect of pleasurable visual impression, they have a meaning to be deciphered.
As Maréchal de Tavanes puts It "An emblem consists of body, soul and spirit: body Is the image, spirit is the invention and soul is the motto."
Ágnes Péter's other field is where she carries on with her struggle with steel. In producing her steel sculptures, she treats the steel surface by grinding either in circles or in multiple directions. The result is a sense of illusory depth arising out of the changing directions and the oscillation of bright and ground areas of the surface. Appearance and reality, the hard and mirror-smooth surface and its illusory depth raise questions which are near-philosophical and which connect her art with a Conceptual-Art version of Minimal Art. We can say with full confidence that this technique is uniquely hers, and it marks the borderline of sculpture and graphics.
Thus, Ágnes Péter's sculptures are philosophical tenets expressed by visual images as much as they are visual images linked with philosophical meanings.
László L Menyhért art historian
Translated by Ferenc Takács