Born in 1937, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Hungarian artist Dóra Maurer’s family believed she had talent from a young age. They were not wrong. Maurer has since gone on to be one of the most influential artists of the avant-garde, not only in Hungary but worldwide. An exhibition now showing at the Tate Modern in London is dedicated to her work.
Maurer began her career in print and went on to study print making and graphics at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest. Yet her style went far beyond print, and she developed a wide ranging experimental practice through a variety of mediums, spanning from film and photography to painting and sculpture.
She remembers that growing up in communist Hungary was not easy.
“It was a grey life with no view to the future,” she recalls. The 1956 revolution was when she realised that Hungarians were not free. Regardless, Maurer has said that working under tight state control meant that she found herself in a circle of artistic havens creating revolutionary art.
The lack of an art market and restrictions on resources resulted in strong conceptual art constructed through diverse mediums and ideas.. Maurer says that this lack of a market had a positive effect on her artistic development, allowing her to experiment without profit in mind.
“I have to confess that in the 1970s, techniques were more accessible, one felt great freedom and solidarity,” she says. “The lack of this makes many things impossible today.”
However, art was heavily censored, especially any work that didn’t align with state-sponsored social realism or which questioned the regime’s legitimacy. Avant-garde galleries were often forced underground, fostering a tight-knit community of artists.
Maurer further explains that to her, this community went beyond her gender: “I was immediately accepted by both constructive artists and experimental filmmakers,” she recalls. “I have never considered drawing or painting [nor do I still see it] as gender specific, and here in Hungary I have never met anyone who would have downplayed my work because I am a woman. On the contrary, there was a scholarly acquaintance who saw both female and male principles in my work.”
Her marriage to Austro-Hungarian artist Tibor Gayor, another prominent figure in the avant-garde scene, allowed her to settle between Budapest and Vienna as a result of his dual citizenship. This gave her a unique position to create art on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
“I was interested neither in conceptual art itself, nor in its established rules. The heuristic experience of movement and change became the basis of my mode of survival in the late sixties, both from a personal and artistic standpoint,” she has said.
Her body of work focuses on the way we process media, movement displacement and rhythm, showing the viewer options to alternate pathways. It is representative of continual change; small changes that develop out of a base structure to show something entirely different emerging. While this can be taken as metaphorical or as literal by the viewer, Maurer does not consider her work political. According to her, the mere fact that it was made during a political time does not correspond with the work’s meaning. Her art does, however, transcend universal themes of movement and progress.
In her Stage series display Maurer’s use of bold colours and geometrical shapes blended in obscure ways to create a sense of motion and time. Other notable works such as Reversible and Changeable Phases of Movements which show a hand in various positions and encourage the viewer examine the detail within each movement on a broader scale, offering an entirely different focus on what is deemed banal in the everyday.
Her work has recently exploded in popularity, but “the spotlight is good, and not,” she says. “Lots of interviews are done. I feel like [I’m] in a vacuum; there is no resistance and there is no effect on my job. I [am] not a star: I need calmness and time as well.”
Maurer’s exhibition at the Tate Modern in London will continue until July 5. Entrance is free. Photo: © Dóra Maurer Photography © Vintage Galéria / András Bozsó