MINISTRY OF INTERIOR
Subject: “AL” art publication distributed by György Galántai
R E P O R T
György Galántai began to consider the idea of putting together an illegal publication of considerable length to be distributed monthly at the beginning of 1982. The publication primarily extends to the area of the fine arts. Thus far, four issues have been published, marked with “AL” and made with dry copying (with Xerox or similar techniques). However, Galántai intimated in June 1983 that he was “on the way” with issue 5, and that forthwith he wished to issue a regular “periodical” – possibly every month. On this occasion I will attempt a brief evaluation on the basis of the first four publications.
The idea of putting together a regular illegal publication of considerable length was not unexpected on Galántai’s part. For years, he produced one- or two-page publications on a regular basis, and, more rarely, even longer ones. These were usually issued under the title Art Pool Window, and disseminated free of charge to addresses in Hungary and abroad as “mail art.” By recourse to his earlier experience, he was able to significantly expand these and found a more widely distributed “periodical” from the beginning of 1983. He no longer gives this out for free but rather – with no permission or official approval whatsoever – has begun to distribute copies for the set price of 50 forints each. He usually sells them personally at exhibitions and gatherings. From the very first issue, he has sought to maintain a degree of the appearance of legitimacy. He came up with the weak “concept” that the booklets containing texts throughout and where pictures merely serve as illustrations, are “graphic art”; and to confirm this he puts the “works” in envelopes with a set of three numbers printed on each one. (The first one-digit number [1....2...3...and 4] indicates the volume of the periodical. The second number, separated from the first by a slash indicates the serial [printing] number within the given periodical we are dealing with, while the third one is the number of the issue.) Every series consists of 50 copies. Thus far Galántai has had 200-250 copies made of each of the four issues, and he has sold most of them. He makes it easier to sell them by distributing checks to his own current account into which people can pay the money into later if they have no cash available.
(My acquaintance received a copy of issues 2, 3 and 4 in this way, for which he had to pay a total of 180 forints).
Galántai – in contrast to the cynical wheeling and dealing of the so-called “samizdat makers” who even tricked the opposition – has found it difficult to make up his mind to ask for money for his material. On the one hand, he fears retributions. However, what is more awkward for him than this is that in regard to his earlier publications, he declared it a principle that they did not serve any kind of business aim whatsoever; and this aspiration is precisely encapsulated in what he said: “art is not business”. He has therefore, to his embarrassment, contradicted himself. However, according to Galántai, the production costs come to several tens of thousands of forints, which he cannot cover if he does not ask for money for the issues.
The title of Galántai’s periodical is “AL.” Although this is an abbreviation, there is actually not a longer version of this title for the publication, and this is because Galántai believes that “AL” is an abbreviation for numerous different names. He listed some of them on the back cover of a call for projects issued in the summer of 1983 titled “Hungary Can Be Yours!”): Actual Letter, Art Letter, Alternative Letter (where of course the word “alternative” refers to an “underground” alternative to officially unsanctioned forms of art), and Artpool Letter. Galántai is fond of playing with the idea that every reader is faced with the task of working out what the title “AL” stands for themselves, and he believes that the more interpretations are made, the better.
However, the AL publication is not just a continuation of Galántai’s earlier activities, as a new element has appeared in it, which from a political perspective is far more damaging than the earlier ones and thus is worthy of closer observation from the point of view of state security. I have identified the following three main problem areas:
- Open support for and propagation of the cause of the radical opposition and within this the “samizdat makers”;
- a more intense rallying than ever before of the domestic avant-garde, underground fine arts groups and individuals, and the formation of a kind of permanent link between them,
- the uncritical propagation of the most extreme, coarse and destructive tendencies within the fine arts avant-garde.
Of these only the second had typified Galántai’s activities, in a far more muted form.
The following is a detailing of the three problem areas listed above.
The publication contains materials that support and propagate some of the initiatives of the radical political opposition. This is especially conspicuous because – although AL is essentially published as a fine arts periodical – these pages have nothing to do with the fine arts whatsoever. For example, pages 12-13 of issue 2 openly advertise the publication titled “In Black,” which was a product of one of the most consistent actions of SZETA [Fund Supporting the Poor](as well as of other groups in the opposition). Although these pages emphasize the fine arts supplement, on page 12 anyone can see the names of those writers and poets – including for example György Petri, István Eörsi, Zsolt Csalog and other well-known radical dissidents – whose writings appeared in the publication. In the same issue, on pages 14-26, there is a lengthy review of István Eörsi’s lecture at the Young Artists’ Club. Even before publishing the first AL issue, Galántai planned to use as much unedited, uncut interviews and conversations recorded on tape as possible. However, here he published the minutes almost word for word of a lecture that launched a most crude attack upon our cultural policy and was fundamentally against our entire politics. For example, one of Eörsi’s “connecting lines” bluntly implies that there are stooges and police informers in the hall and issues a warning to the individuals presumed to be present to inform the authorities in an accurate way, since “distortions” had appeared in their reports thus far. One of the objectives of his writing, titled “I Caught a Fly at the Minister,” is to denigrate the cultural minister and the policy he represents.
(He describes politics as merely determined by personal interests, relations and friendships.) In issue 3, Galántai even published Gergely Bikácsy’s response to the Eörsi material. This writing – which, among other things, is evocative of the events of 1956 – while at the same time also at variance here and there with Eörsi’s lecture – essentially presents the same view and only serves to strengthen Eörsi’s declarations. This author is just another radical dissident.
The second problem area:
During the period between 1970 and 1973, when Galántai was active in Balatonboglár, he was already playing a decisive organizational, community-forming role. He brought together and connected the divided and isolated “avant-garde” groups from the fine arts and to a lesser degree from theater, film, music and literature. On occasions, this activity even extended to Hungarian artists abroad (e.g. in Yugoslavia). However, the publication titled “AL” far more efficiently performs this task than Galántai could ever have dreamed of in Balatonboglár (or after it). The various gatherings are soon forgotten and the superficial conversations often carried out in a drunken state do not leave a lasting impression. Despite the protracted activities of the Chapel Studio, Galántai was not able to acquaint many people with one another personally. However, the new periodical now keeps 200-250 individuals in contact with one another on a permanent basis. (This is Galántai’s true objective anyway, as he has openly proclaimed in sympathetic circles). News of events, which would otherwise remain the private affairs of 3-4 people, now reaches hundreds and their ripple effect gives rise to further debates. Isolated groups and individuals can become informed in detail about each other’s activities, and – if Galántai succeeds in keeping up the pace he has set so far – with little delay. Even though it is clear that rivalry among dissidents will not come to an end because of the existence of “AL”, there is no doubt that the publication rallies and homogenizes the fine arts avant-garde. After reading the issues, the circle of 200-250 concerned will be far better informed about their own activities than they were before the publication of the periodical. However powerless and inert some artists may be, we have no reason to reject the assumption that the information published in “AL” will increase the number of meetings between individuals and - setting a chain reaction in motion – will “forge together” the avant-garde circles, which until now were dispersed. After reading the articles many will clearly be enthused to see exhibitions and actions by individuals whose activities they were thus far only vaguely – or indeed not at all – aware of. The publication aspires to be interesting by including accounts that grab people’s attention.
The third problem area:
The activities of the avant-garde fine artists in Hungary were very diverse at the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s, and have continued to diversify ever since. These include both moderately and crudely destructive, provocative and politically damaging and morally questionable initiatives. Although in Galántai’s periodical the moderate and quality artists and authors are also featured (such as Lóránd Hegyi’s thorough study, as well as the conversations by Zsuzsa Simon, Bak and Albert in issue 4 [from page 19]), the chief emphasis is given to the radicals. It is typical that in dozens of writings the now deceased Tibor Hajas and his activities are praised and all but worshipped (for example László Kistamás’ article on page 60 of issue 4), similarly to those of Tamás Szentjóby, now living abroad. These people embody aggressive, destructive (and in Hajas’ case sick and sadistic) aspirations (“Be Forbidden!”). More important than this is that their followers, i.e. the initiators of similar actions in our country at present, are accorded ample space in the publication. For example, issue 3 contains an account (from page 12) of the action by János Szirtes titled “Avanti”, which in regard to its character is an integral continuation of Hajas’ destructive “performances” designed to shock the audience and the most crude appearances of the INCONNU group. Apart from this, a reoccurring theme is the activity of János Vető, who was a close colleague of Hajas.
Thus, on the one hand, the publication acquaints its readers with the radical opinions of the primarily political and non-artistic opposition, with “samizdat” publications. On the other hand, it connects the fine arts avant-gardes (film, music, theater), which had thus far been divided and scattered, and brings together different generations of the aforementioned avant- garde artists, old and young, and in addition increases the influence of the opinion leaders, such as László Beke and Miklós Erdély. Thirdly, the periodical strengthens the most aggressive and destructive tendencies (Hajas’s “legacy”), which would otherwise only provoke feedback in far smaller circles.
It is, therefore, worth raising the question of whether Galántai intends his “AL” for an exclusively domestic audience or for a foreign one.
After all, the title of the publication is an English abbreviation, and every issue includes a one-page abstract in English as a supplement, which provides a brief summary of the issue. Based on this, it could be assumed that the periodical mainly targets an international audience. However, it is the opinion of the writer of these present lines that ninety percent of the publication is nevertheless written for a domestic audience, and serves to advance domestic “underground” aspirations. The chief aim is not to inform foreign readers but rather the three objectives that I outlined earlier. Apart from a few Hungarian émigrés, the booklets provide foreign artists who are unable to read Hungarian with scant information indeed. As far as illegally circulated Hungarian publications go, Galántai’s periodical has a high standard of execution; however, if compared with the color Xerox technology and other processes now used in Western countries, the publication is poor and boring. With few exceptions, the names featured in the booklets are completely unknown abroad. It is quite likely that many foreign artists regard Galántai’s activities as a form of self-advertising, and a futile attempt at stubborn self-propaganda. Foreign readers can find some better known names at the beginning of the issues, in the “travel articles.” However, these are written with the expressed aim of informing Hungarian readers about foreign locations. We will bring our analysis to a close by asserting that, although one of the meanings of “AL” is “Artpool Letter,” the art collection and this publication represent two extremes of his activities. In Hungary, Artpool is a unique documentation, which, if objectively analyzed and made more broadly available to a wider audience and indeed to circles of researchers and art historians, – could provide the opportunity for a thorough survey of the fine arts aspirations in Western countries. The work that Galántai has invested in the development, organization and obtaining of the pieces of the collection is significant in regard to both quantity and quality, and this activity can be classified as mostly being acceptable. In contrast, “AL” works to the benefit of the radical, aggressive representatives of the domestic political opposition and the fine arts avant-garde, and clearly damages the realization of the fundamental principles of our arts and cultural policy.
The secret agent with the cover name “Zoltán Pécsi” focused on the assessment of György Galántai’s publications and activities. Any information deemed valuable from an operative point of view will be used in our informative reports.
Budapest, September “ ”, 1983
Tibor Horváth, police captain
Registry number: 4/5-790.
Printed: in 4 copies
1st copy for MI
2nd copy for the file “Painter”
3rd copy Táj.alo. [Intelligence subdivision]
4th copy for Táj.vonal. [Intelligence]
Source: “Pécsi Zoltán” fn. tmb. jelentése a Galántai György által forgalmazott “AL” c. művészeti kiadványról [Report by secret agent, cover name “Zoltán Pécsi”, about the art publication “AL” distributed by György Galántai], BM III/III-4-b alosztály, TH O-19618/2, pp. 148-155. (September 1983), English translation by Krisztina Sarkady-Hart