MODEM: The Walls of Lili Ország

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The Walls of Lili Ország

18 August 2013 – 19 January 2014

The oeuvre of Lili Ország (8 August 1926, Ungvar – 1 October 1978, Budapest), with her peculiar private mythology, is unique in the 20th-century Hungarian fine arts. MODEM now ventures to introduce this lonely career of feminine and Jewish roots. The exhibition features works from various Hungarian public and private collections, spanning every important period of the artist. Thus, the visitors will gain a comprehensive insight into this outstanding and mysterious oeuvre that can rarely be seen in its entirety.

After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts, she began working at the Puppet Theatre in Budapest, where she developed close intellectual and work relationships with artists like Endre Bálint, Anna Márkus, Dezső Korniss and Vera Bródy. Bálint’s appreciation and encouragement led her to continue creating.

Due to her introverted, insecure personality, only in the late 60s did she become certain that her works deserved a place in the Hungarian art scene. Her collectors, who had discovered her significance at an early stage of her career, had important role in her life and fostered close ties with her until her death. Such figures were István Rácz, Ernő Kolozsváry and János Vasilescu from Győr. For this reason, the majority of her works are still located in Győr. Literary inspirations and points of reference can serve as important guides for the interpretation of her works; such were Franz Kafka (whose writings and correspondence probably had the greatest influence on the artist), or János Pilinszky poet, with whom she was close friends.

Lili Ország’s oeuvre consists of three distinct periods, yet it forms a completely coherent entirety. The exhibition is structured according to this trichotomy. The wall as a basic motif and the petrified, incapacitated figures in front of the walls in desolate spaces already appear in the paintings of her early period, bearing the influences of French Surrealism and metaphysical painting. We may consider the works of her early period remarkable as, although, there were some artists in the 20th-century Hungarian scene who used partly surrealistic elements (such as Imre Ámos, István Farkas or Lajos Vajda), only Lili Ország’s works are strongly related to the classical field of the genre.

Her early period was followed by a conscious process of image construction. The basic motifs, however, remained unchanged, they rather disintegrated as a kind of interlinked circle to be reintegrated in a different form. The exploration of the meaning-layers of the recurring motifs and the diverse symbols require almost archaeological methods. Lili Ország, as her own archaeologist, confesses about the process in which the Kafkaesque walls, symbolising her own anxiety, crash down. During her foreign journeys she would intuitively search for her walls’ motifs in the past, in ancient cultures and in history. Significant sites for collecting motifs were the Old Jewish cemetery in Prague, the Bulgarian icons, Naples, Pompeii, Jerusalem and India. Wandering through the ruined, ancient cities, among their remaining monuments and relics, she felt as if she had already visited these places. Her pictures from this time can be considered as a kind of commemorative gesture for the preservation and continuation of the past.

Towards the end of the oeuvre, as the final element in a logic-game, she completed her masterpiece, the labyrinth series of 48 pieces she was preparing from 1973 until her death in 1978. This was when she started using the printed circuit board as a printing block, she considered its pattern, that could be also interpreted as a city plan or labyrinth, as an imprint, a symbol of the 20th Century. The discovery of the circuit board motif, the procession of the past’s stories and the enclosing walls meant the consummation and the end of her oeuvre. She could as much identity herself with the labyrinth motif and the related myths (Icarus, Thread of Ariadne, Sphinx) and consider them as same symbols as the previous brick walls or ancient cities.


Labyrinth with Orans Figure L IX, oil on fibreboard, 1974, Budapest Historical Museum, Municipal Picture Gallery

Besides the most significant pieces from her major periods, the exhibition also features collages that illustrate her process of image construction, as well as such masterpieces like the Requiem on Seven Plates, in Memory of Perished People and Cities or the Romanesque Christ. The exhibition dedicates a separate room for the lesser known works from the early surrealist period and a room for 16 pieces of the labyrinth series.

Curator of the exhibition: Zsófia Farkas, art historian, registrar of MODEM

Lender institutions and collections: Rómer Flóris Art and History Museum – Vasilescu Collection, Kolozsváry Collection – Győr; King Saint Stephen Museum – Székesfehérvár; Antal–Lusztig Collection – Debrecen; Museum of Fine Arts – Hungarian National Gallery; Budapest Historical Museum – Municipal Gallery; Kieselbach Gallery; Tamás Kieselbach; Korda–Földényi Collection – Budapest.

The exhibition features 88 artworks by Lili Ország: 68 oil paintings and 20 collages.

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