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The “Gyárfás Jenő” Art Gallery in Sepsiszentgyörgy

By the time of the relocation of the Székely National Museum to Sepsiszentgyörgy, the art collection consisted of “137 pictures and figures” – according to the register from September 15 1879. There were only a few original works; most of the enlisted items were multiplied lithographs and photographs. However, it is a fact that the first curator of the museum, Gyula Nagy Vasady shaped the first art gallery of the museum in October 1879 on the first floor corridor of the Béldi House, a house belonging to the Székely Mikó College, which existed until 1892.

The expanding and professional development of the collection has been constantly impeded. The museum used to engage into researches of art history: in 1880 Géza Nagy and József Huszka started the research of the mural paintings of the Székelyföld. After their departure from the museum, a less successful decade followed, although objects of the museum collection attended the exhibitions of Budapest and Paris (1896, 1900).

Institutional work began to flourish at the turn of the century with the consolidation of the national network of public collections and with the involvement of new scholars. Ferenc László completed a separate specific catalogue for a “fine art” department. Up to the construction and opening of the new building of the museum designed by Károly Kós (1913), numerous good quality works entered in the possession of the museum.

An outstanding scholar helping the museum was Jenő Gyárfás himself. A nationally renowned painter, the artist came to the museum in 1881 for documenting one of his major works, but he also took part in the organizing and administrative work: mediating donations, expressing expertise on collections offered for sale, and from 1912 representing the city as a member of the directorial board. We need to mention also the organizing work of graphic artists Nándor Lajos Varga. Due to him the institution gained the support of his former colleague from the university, the renowned artist from Csíkzsögöd, Imre Nagy. The museum was depending on the support of the artists especially because with the change of state power in 1918–1920, it was left without any constant subsidy.

In the interwar period the attention of the curators was oriented towards the oeuvre of the artists born in Székelyföld. The 1929 report of the board mentioned around one thousand items, emphasizing a dozen works from Miklós Barabás and Jenő Gyárfás, expressing the “natural talent and artistic greatness” of the two Székely-Hungarians. The basic material of the collection was made up by their works along with the donations of Imre Nagy and Nándor Lajos Varga.

There were several mobilizing actions of the artists, but one really stands out: the Székely Collection (organized by Vilmos Csutak, Károly Kós, Imre Nagy), an introductory attempt for the founding of the Barabás Miklós Céh organized in the rooms of the Székely Mikó College.

The years of World War II were a contradictory period. Nándor Lajos Varga analyzed the graphic material of the 15th and 16th century books of the museum, and he also restored the gigantic painting of Jenő Gyárfás (The Fall of Áron Gábor) for the exhibition on 1848. At the beginning of the year 1944 the museum was preparing to participate to the events of the Artistic Year of Székelyföld with a Jenő Gyárfás exhibition. But at the end of the war, as a result of a fatal decision, one and a half thousand art objects were destroyed during the rescue, almost half of the entire collection. The long list of lost items includes such works as the life-sized portrait of the founder of the museum, Jánosné Cserey by Jenő Gyárfás, a portrait painted by Miklós Barabás about his wife, Susanne Bois de Chesne, or the works of Imre Nagy, Novák Vilmos Aba, István Szőnyi, Gyula Rudnay, Károly Szathmári Papp, János Kmetty, Jenő Tarjáni Simkovics.

After the communist nationalization another contradictory decade followed, but an outstanding collection was taking shape, gathering the works of the famous painter and sculptor János Mattis-Teutsch, while in 1955 we were finally able to open a permanent exhibition of works by Székely artists.

Even during the communist regime we managed to find the way to reorganize and expand the nationalized art collection. We purchased two pre-studies of the composition Tetemrehívás by Jenő Gyárfás, respectively two oil paintings by Imre Nagy, and the miniature portraits of Miklós Sikó of members of the Szentkereszty family.

In the 1960s and 1970s many artists settled in Sepsiszentgyörgy. So during the 1970s it was possible to organize regular exhibitions on county level: Pál I. Erdős (1972), Grup 3 meaning Ria Deák M., Béla Kiss, Barna Deák (1974), Lajos Bogáti Kispál, András Márkos, András Mérey, and for the first time a group exhibition of the artists of the county (1975).

Among the donors of this period stands out Nándor Lajos Varga with his one hundred gorgeous files, painter József Bene, who in 1977 donated seventy works to the museum (the Bene-collection, which until 1992 was situated in building nr 3 of the central unit of the museum), and a member of the family of painter Albert Nagy, who donated several dozen paintings and sculptures.

In 1970 the art gallery gained partial independence. First a Jenő Gyárfás Memorial was made in a monument building designed by him, and then in 1978 the gallery was given a separate headquarters in the monument building in the city centre called Bazaar. That period was marked by the personality of graphic artist Imre Baász, who had been working there between 1976 and 1982. The activities from the Bazaar – in the given circumstances – were carried out according to a self-organizing, autonomous policy.

Another initiative of Imre Baász was an event of national importance called Medium, which presented contemporary experimenting tendencies in art. It was a real muster of young artists and groups, involved in experimental art just about tolerated (or not) by the communist regime. Artists beginning their career at the Medium are now outstanding and determining personalities of the art world in Transylvania and Hungary. Although Imre Baász was fired from the museum because of “disciplinary issues”, he continued to take part in the art life of the county as an organizer.

In the 1980s the spiritual expansion continued. Under the coordination of Mihály Jánó was opened an interactive “chat” aiming aesthetic education called Why do I like it? The register of the works and the depositing surface was modernized, and the entire material of the art gallery was scientifically assessed. In spite of the heavy political atmosphere we were able to open exhibitions like the one presenting the works of the Nagybánya artists’ colony or the commemorative exhibition of Borbála Bocz. Under the given circumstances, organizing and carrying out the jubilee exhibition of the artists of Háromszék on the 25th anniversary of the Association of the Romanian Artists was also a difficult task.

Although the euphoria of the 1989 events was followed by a quick sobering up, there was still a real feeling of relief. The opening of the borders and the liveliness of public life had a good influence on the cultural and art institutions as well. The number of events was rising, and the guest exhibitors (especially from Hungary) were again accompanied by concerts, book or film launchings. On the level of Hungarian–Hungarian relations, there is an active communication and interaction with “Laczkó Dezső” Museum from Veszprém, with the National Gallery from Budapest, respectively with the artist associations from Nyíregyháza and Veszprém. The Medium 2. (1991) exhibition, organized by Imre Baász was of an outstanding importance, aiming the integration into the international art life. An effective partnership was formed with the Van Gogh Museum of Amsterdam on the occasion of a common poster exhibition in 1993. Our rich Mattis-Teutsch material linked us with the art museums of Gent and Antwerp and with the Kunsthaus of Munich.

The increase of events in the art gallery was also influenced by the fact that the “Üvegcsűr” contemporary art gallery became the victim of a non-conception privatization. The lost function of the contemporary art gallery – temporary exhibitions of contemporary artists – had to be taken over by the other gallery. Therefore this small institution is the place for both experimental and classical exhibitions and art events. The general objective is leaning towards a postmodern search for alternatives by comparing or confronting similarities and differences within traditions. A good example is the analysis of the theme Tetemrehívás, where contemporary artists were trying to re-interpret the traditions of János Arany and Jenő Gyárfás through the lenses of present-day mentality.

At the middle of the 1990s we started the inner modernization of the building and the partial consolidation of the clock tower. The inner spaces of the building have become more functional and have regained their initial splendour. Although the rooms have a more logical structuring and the modification of the entrance hall and corridors enlarged the exhibiting surface, the art gallery has grown out of this present location too. Almost half of the existing surface (around 450 m) serves for the permanent exhibition (Pantheon) and this is very little if we take into consideration the size of the collection, as only 10% of the registered works are permanently exhibited. The gallery tries to compensate this lacuna with the periodical change of the exhibited basic material. The remaining surfaces are for temporary exhibitions and venues for writer–reader meetings or concerts of classical music. The professional artists can cover the rent with their works; therefore the expanding of the collection is somewhat assured in spite of the very poor allocation of financial resources.

The art gallery bears the name of Jenő Gyárfás since 2006. At present it keeps more than 2500 art works, and its policy is still to focus on the consistent and concise discovery, presentation and popularization of the local (Székely, Transylvanian) creating spirit, in parallel with the open-mindedness concerning new art forms different from the local, traditional concepts.

Pantheon. The permanent exhibition of the gallery

The name was used already by our predecessors in the form of Székely Pantheon, aiming to present and preserve the cult of great Székely personalities. On the contrary, this present exhibition undertakes the exemplary presentation of the art works of our community. The Székely attribute would have been restricting regarding the diversity and richness of the gallery, and at the same time monopolizing towards the other, significant collections (Székelyudvarhely, Csíkszereda).

However, the notion of pantheon is indispensable because our collection, structured into memorial rooms, presents the (major) works of artists born in our more or less extended region (Székelyföld, Central Transylvania, Partium), or working in this region, such as Miklós Barabás, Imre Baász, József Bene, Jenő Gyárfás, János Mattis-Teutsch, Albert Nagy, Imre Nagy, Sándor Plugor, Nándor Lajos Varga. We also include into our basic collection the works of the second and third artist generation of the Nagybánya colony, because they are connected to the others by their location and because certain works by Béla Iványi Grünwald, Oszkár Nagy, János Torma or Sándor Ziffer are links to our collection of 19th and 20th century paintings.

At the putting together of the exhibition a determining viewpoint was – besides the place of birth and of activity – the quality and quantity presence of certain pieces from their work in our collection. From those enumerated above even one oeuvre could fill the space that we have at the moment. This lack of space impedes us to realize one of our plans: to lead the visitor almost unnoticed from the concluded oeuvres to the local contemporary art. “The spirit of the place” could express itself best of all through a permanent exhibition presenting such a cross-section. Fortunately in 2010 we were able to purchase a plot near our central building, where within the project called Garden of Arts we can build the first modern gallery of contemporary art in Transylvania.

On 1 April 2015 MAGMA Contemporary Art Space from Sfântu Gheorghe celebrated its 5 years anniversary. During these five years we have collaborated with around 250 artists, art theorists, philosophers, etc. and together we contributed to what MAGMA is today.[ details ]
MAGMA Contemporary Art Space from Sfântu Gheorghe cordially invites you to the opening of the group exhibition Examples for Non-universal Chair on March 18, 2015 at 18:00. [ details ]
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On January 15, 2015 at 19:00 MAGMA Contemporary Art Space from Sfântu Gheorghe cordially invites you to the opening of the exhibition entitled The geometry of water by Hungarian artist Ágnes PÉTER winner of the first prize at the second edition of the International Graphic Art Biennial in Szeklerland.[ details ]
SALON VIDEO and MAGMA Contemporary Art Space cordially invite you to the opening of the archive-exhibition salonvideo_SUBmissions.[ details ]
Magda CSUTAK // Solo Exhibition[ details ]
Ivan Ladislav GALETA solo exhibition[ details ]
Opening: 14. February, 2014., 19:00[ details ]
Group exhibition[ details ]
Zoltán Szegedy-Maszák & Márton Fernezelyi [ details ]
The 35-year anniversary exhibition of MAMŰ[ details ]
Prints, Drawings and Photos from the Ethnological Archives[ details ]
MAGMA Contemporary Art Space invites you to the opening of the exhibition entitled Master and disciple 4 of the artists Ilona NÉMETH and Jaro VARGA [ details ]
Joint temporary exhibition of the Hungarian Museum of Trade and Tourism, the Hungarian Museum for Science, Technology and Transport and the Fazakas & Kimmel Collection [ details ]
The commune Árkos and the Covasna County Capital, Sepsiszentgyörgy will host an extraordinary event: the ‘Spiral’ International Contemporary Art Symposium takes place here at the Training Center and the garden of the Szentkereszty Castle. [ details ]
Our exhibition attempts to give an overview of the main events, effects and consequences of the greatest plague epidemic of European history, the Black Death, which first devastated Europe in 1347-1349. [ details ]
Holidays and Encounters II. – Ethnographic exhibition and Europe in Miniature cultural program in the Székely National Museum[ details ]
Executive editor: Vargha Mihály.
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