Magazine article Artforum International

Peter Nadas: Kunsthaus Zug

Magazine article Artforum International

Peter Nadas: Kunsthaus Zug

Article excerpt

The novels of Hungarian writer and photographer Peter Nadas arouse contrary opinions. Susan Sontag rated A Book of Memories (1986) a masterpiece; Michael Hofmann said it "isn't merely bad but rotten." Guardian reviewer Tibor Fischer dismissed Parallel Stories (2011) as navel-gazing "historical soup" and characterized Nadas's admirers as credulous postmodernists or guilt-ridden, over-intellectualizing Germans. Fischer's text triggered some thoughtful proNadas responses online, locating his work in a present-day "culture war." Hungary's right-leaning, populist-nationalist administration apparently regards his work as elitist, cosmopolitan, and not properly Hungarian--a characterization that many might take as a recommendation in itself.

Organized by Nadas himself and Matthias Haldemann, director of Kunsthaus Zug, the exhibition "Peter Nadas. In der Dunkelkammer des Schreibens. Ubergange zwischen Text, Bild und Denken" (Peter Nadas. In the Darkroom of Writing. Transitions between Text, Image and Thought) includes a shelf stocked with Nadas's literary oeuvre, in both the original and translation, and offers multiple contexts for reappraising those contentious texts. Most importantly, it showcased five decades of the writer's photography, contrasting his realist-documentary practice of the 1960s and '70s with his obsessively introspective recent work, characterized by serial experiments focused on things rather than people: a wardrobe, a window frame, the corner of a room, or, in "Der Baum" (The Tree), 20002001, a wild pear tree photographed daily from the same viewpoint for over a year. Nadas later used these Polaroid images were later used in his 2002 book, Der Eigene Tod (Own Death), a reflection on his experience of a heart attack. This seems to be Nadas's most explicit experiment in the juxtaposition of his own words and images: It counterpoints a short story reliving the attack's shocking revelation of the split second separating life from death with his photographic diary of the tree's slow, cyclical, vegetable existence.

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Elsewhere in the Kunsthaus, extensive loans from European collections provided a further context, national and international, for Nadas's work. There was a gloomy collection of twentieth-century Hungarian paintings, most trapped in doomed stylistic love affairs with Cezanne, Picasso, Nolde, and other assorted modernist and Expressionist masters. …

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