Informal exercises
The Intellectual Class through Portraits by Ferenc Deák
2024 Mar 05, 19:00
On view:
2024 Mar 06 2024 Apr 14
11 a.m. – 7 p.m., except Mondays and holidays

Informal exercises. The Intellectual Class through Portraits by Ferenc Deák offers a series of interventions, commentaries and intersections concerned with the representation of intellectuals during the period of class society and is based on an extremely familiar genre, that of portraiture. Over the past six months, our project team have digitalised the whole of the Minerva Archive collection of photographs by Deák Ferenc, a Cluj photographer who was active on the local scene during the 1960s and 1970s. Of the several hundred portraits of representatives of the local and regional intellectual class, we have selected around one hundred images and developed them in the laboratory from the original negatives. In these portraits we can see writers, artists, doctors, actors and, generally speaking, the professional categories which we would regard as belonging to the intellectual class. The reasons why these portraits were made are not fully known to us. Some reflect institutional or private commissions, while others were most likely made without charge by the photographer for friends of his who were part of the local cultural scene.
Deák’s portrait photographs were made during a time characterised by the expansion of informal activities that provided ways forward for an environment with limited resources. If we look out for them, portraits of this kind can be encountered even today in the buildings of government institutions. They are seldom seen in any other buildings or contexts. The opportunity to analyse them anew, from the standpoint of the present, and to look at them as examples of an informal practice struck us as one not to be missed.
The most important criterion in the selection of these portraits as a jumping-off point for constructing the exhibition was precisely our recognition of the historical chasm that separates the intellectual class of the portraits from that of the present day. The portraits exhibited owe their significance to the fact that they appear to immortalize statuses and roles for the intellectual class which we no longer encounter in the same form today. We are concerned with the way in which this class was and is represented, how it acted within itself or in relation to society and political power. To develop and in general to pose questions of this kind we invited artists, researchers and journalists, people involved in investigating, processing and mediating the relevant information, to take part in our project by making public their comments and observations.

These photographs are exhibited along with a number of terracotta portraits by the sculptor Benczédi Sándor which suggest other possible ways of addressing the issue of the intellectual class. Images of these sculptures were published in the journal Utunk [Our Road], in its Sculptures Beside the Road column, and may have been seen by tens of thousands of people. For the public of that time, their first contact with these sculptures was most likely exclusively via photographs of them in the journal. Of the approximately 200 terracotta portraits known, Ladó Ágota has selected 20, which are presented in such a way that it is the visitor to the exhibition who is exposed to the gaze of the intellectuals of the past.

Matei Bejenaru has researched a collection of images by a Iași photographer who captured the city’s cultural scene in the 1970s and 1980s. Claudiu Cobilanschi faced the difficult task of making a series of portraits of math students. Kispál Ágnes-Evelin and Kispál Attila are working with police suspect photographs in which the local intellectual class appear. Alexandru Polgár interrogates the classical position of intellectuals by putting writing under a crisis. Szabó-Reznek Eszter has researched the activity files of the actors and actresses of the Hungarian State Theatre in Cluj, dating from the beginning of the 1950s, which can be seen as written self-portraits. Miklós Erhardt’s work is a literal remake of a fragment from a documentary film created in 1975. Szilárd Miklós uses the tools of contemporary art to create a facial composite in the logic of a public investigation.

Digitalisation and website: Jancsik Gergő, Áron Öllerer, Wanek Ferenc
Journalists: Voicu Bojan, Nicoleta Moise, Tóth Helga, Zsizsmann Erika
Köszönet: Kocsis Tünde