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Censorship at the Collegium Hungaricum Vienna

July 12, 2017

On 27 June 2017, our work entitled [See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil] was removed from the Real Hungary exhibition, arranged in the building of the Collegium Hungaricum Vienna, before it opened. The triptych in question was the latest element of our series entitled Flags. Three Hungarian flags are represented so that each has one colour of the tricolour painted over with black enamel paint. Our first flag in the series was displayed in 2010 at the exhibition of Esterházy Prize recipients also arranged at the Collegium Hungaricum Vienna. For the current occasion, according to our agreement with the curator, and alongside other works, we produced new flags. With our works, our objective was to offer a critical response to the concept of the exhibition*, and not to incite a political scandal. With our selection, to present formally abstract works at a show engaged in Realist traditions, we wanted to reflect upon the problematics of categorization.

*Abstract Hungary (Künstlerhaus, Graz, 2017) / Real Hungary (Collegium Hungaricum, Vienna, 2017).

The facts, in brief:

  1. The exhibition of Esterházy Prize winners, entitled Real Hungary, was arranged in the Hungarian Institute on the invitation of the director of the Collegium Hungaricum Vienna, i.e., Mária Molnár
  2. The curator of the exhibition was Vitus Weh, contemporary art advisor to the Esterházy private foundation, and the works on view appeared with his approval, the ominous work in question, among others.
  3. While our work was meant to be installed on the wall on the day before the opening, we were in fact unable to arrive to the Institute during opening hours due to reasons outside our control. We notified the staff of the Institute, who did not indicate any problems in connection with this, and they arranged for our installation to take place the following day (the day of the opening); the staff was very helpful. Mária Molnár did not make any contact with us personally, nor did she advise either the artists or the curator that she would like to inspect the displayed works before the opening, nor did she ask for any further information about the new pictures, though we would have been more than happy to oblige. The place for the triptych was waiting empty on the wall when we arrived.
  4. The week before the opening, we had provided the information about the new work upon the request of the staff at the Institute, so that it could be included in the list of works and on the list for insurance, and no photos were requested beforehand.
  5. As we found out that day, when we installed the pictures, Mária Molnár was not even in Vienna; thus, she most likely was informed by telephone that the pictures had been installed, and that they were flags.
  6. The triptych was installed on the wall 6 hours before the opening, in the knowledge that (since this was what we had agreed upon) this would not be a problem. Nevertheless, during lunch, the staff member of the foundation and the curator received the directive from Mária Molnár to remove the work from the exhibition immediately. All of this likewise occurred by telephone, as Mária Molnár was still not in the building; i.e., she decided without seeing it, in an insupportable tone, referring to the fact that political work could not be shown in the Hungarian Institute, especially not when it concerned the desecration of national symbols. There was no mention of any sort of bureaucratic reasons or rules.
  7. For our part, after this, the best solution seemed to be to retract all of our works, but in consultation with the curator, and in consideration of the foundation, the exhibition, and all the other artists, we made a compromise and we accepted the removal of the triptych. By the time we returned to the exhibition space, the pictures had already been removed, but we insisted on documenting the event, and so we re-installed and then removed the pictures once again. Five minutes later, the place for the nails was already filled.
  8. After the opening, we were finally able to speak with the director of the Institute in person, who continued to refer to the desecration of national symbols as her reason, as well as mentioning its tastelessness. She did say, however, that now she would be willing to look at the work with her own eyes. This, however, has still not happened yet.
  9. The exhibition is now closed because of technical reasons. According to the contract between the Esterhazy Foundation and The Collegium Hungaricum Vienna it should be on view until the 10th of October.


Lőrinc Borsos

(Lilla Lőrinc, János Borsos)

Budapest, 07.05.2017


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Lőrinc Borsos

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

2017, triptychon, acrilyc, enamel on wood, 20x30x5 cm each

about flag series:

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