Endre Tót: Gladness and Rain
September 9 - November 14, 2021
About the exhibition
Endre Tót: Gladness and Rain is a survey show on the work of Hungarian artist Endre Tót, with over 100 artworks and ephemera loaned from private and institutional collections. Curated by Darling Green, the exhibition includes artists’ books, printed matter, performance works, and mail art correspondence, with an emphasis on Tót’s print output of the 1970s and 80s which defied the censorship of Soviet-controlled Hungary with both humor and absurdity.
A challenger of the academic and artistic establishment of Hungary from the beginning, Tót initially rose to prominence as an abstract painter but denounced the medium for what he termed his “Zero Tendency.” This shift ushered in a prolific phase in Tót’s career, and brought him into contact with international Mail Art and Fluxus networks, to whom he dispatched enigmatic “0” letters meant to befuddle the censors’ ever watchful eyes.
Tót’s artistic production from this period also included video and photographic performance work, artists’ books, postcards, and typewritten documents, often covertly produced. The artist developed a distinctive set of conceptual strategies, consisting of Zeros, Rain (repeatedly typed slashes) and Gladnesses (“I am glad if…”), which attracted a cult following worldwide. At the end of the decade, Tót emigrated to Berlin, and later Cologne, where he expanded on his series of protest performances, assembling crowds with placards and banners emblazoned with zeros or phrases such as “WE ARE GLAD IF WE CAN DEMONSTRATE”—absurdist gestures, balanced between sincerity and sarcasm.
Endre Tót: Gladness and Rain is on view to the public September 9 - November 14, at Printed Matter, 231 11th Avenue, New York City
A selection of original works are available for purchase. Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Exhibition Walkthrough with curator Jeremy Johnston
Tót works on view: RAIN
The most enigmatic of Tót’s strategies is Rain, the repeated typing of the “/” character, often with a built-in duality (“my rain, your rain”), or a distinct character based on the image it overlays, or the way the slash symbol is formatted (“inside rain,” ”isolated rain”). The Rain works’ carefully arranged typings are a time consuming, rhythmic activity that, with their attendant clacking keys, is the sonic equivalent of a rain shower. In Tót’s world, anything can be subjected to rain, from Budapest's Heroes' Square (a frequent victim of Tót’s downpours, and a loaded site in Hungary’s national identity), to world tourist locations and even photographs of domestic interiors. They bear a certain resemblance to his zeros, which sometimes also appear as rain—they can be perceived as zeros collapsed or on their sides, or as even further negations of zero, agents of division.
The Rains often emphasize Tót’s feelings of isolation from the goings-on of the Western art world. It is hard to determine whether having rain visited upon you is a blessing or a curse—and most probably, it is neither—they are only typed because it makes him glad. Rain may simply be a way of treating and distinguishing differences of time and space, in Geneva it is raining in a certain way, in New York another way, and in Budapest, the sky may be totally clear. This conception of rain echoes Tót’s photographic doublings, works that convey the kind of doublespeak artists had to negotiate in order to secure a minimum of creative freedom. In duplicating himself, Tót has an imagined audience, whereas in his Rains, he imagines other climes where his audience may exist.
Tót works on view: GLADNESSES
The foundational strategy of Tót’s conceptual oeuvre is the statement “I am glad if…”, first found in a 1971 postcard reading, “I was glad to print this sentence,” and then in his early series of photo and video performances, Joys. In Joys, the artist proclaims his gladness at enacting the mundane or absurd, such as “I am glad if I can take one step.” In the context of 1970s Hungary, these Joys were subtly subversive—when Tót’s first Joys video performances were screened in the presence of a state censor, the film was confiscated and destroyed for its tongue-in-cheek gladness. In other instances, his unique blend of sincerity and mockery is more pronounced, as in his “I am glad if I can read Lenin,” a text which accompanies a photograph of Tót reading a book of Lenin’s writings so closely that it obscures his own face. These photos are representative of a distinct Eastern European genre of performance, the “photo performance,” actions performed for one time documentation and afterwards distributed as photo prints, though Tót’s international ambitions are clear in his use of English for his Joys series.
A second, less performance-centric sub-series of Gladnesses depicts Tót as doubled, such as I am glad if we can look at each other (1971). Art historian Klara Kemp-Welch suggests that these photographs represent the “...self having become subordinate to surface. Both selves are surface.” In the flattening that happens, he assumes what Thomas Strauss, his collaborator of the late 70s, called his “laughing mask,” a logofied visage of permanent mirth regardless of circumstance. Gladness frequently appears in combination with Tót’s other motifs, “I am glad if I can type zeros” or “I am glad if I can type rains,” providing a raison d'être for their obsessive repetitions.
What led you to publishing? How did you begin
printing and publishing your books and multiples?
I learned about printing presses and print opportunities because I was teaching at an industry vocational school and was in touch with a printing house. During this time large printing houses were strictly supervised, so there wasn’t much I could do with these, but I did discover smaller print shops that I could use…
Tót works on view: ZEROS
The Zero in Tót’s work is both counterpart and foil to Gladness, a kind of happy nihilism that pervades Tót’s work of the 70s and seems heir to the disillusionment of 1956’s failed uprising. In a characteristic doubling of Tót, it is a cypher in both senses, the numerical and the cryptographic. It represents nothing, but also serves as a coded language; legible to the neo-Dadaist tendencies of the Fluxus and mail art communities, but opaque and nonsensical to the repressive bureaucracy, to which it is legible only as document, not as artwork. Tót’s zeros take on a variety of forms, often repetitiously typewritten on pages or postcards, other times stamped or printed, and still other times, occupying his demonstration banners and placards, strung into nothing sentences such as “0000 000 00. 00000-0000 000: 000000!”
Along with his own face, the zero would become his totem, the sign of his self-proclaimed Zero Tendency, by which he was recognized in the mail art community, as his ubiquitous Zeropost stamps would attest. Tót’s zero lives as a signifier alongside the great conceptual artist logos of the period, and its iconic nature inspired tributes as far away as San Francisco, where Carl E. Loeffler and Bill “Picasso” Gaglione recorded their own zero sound poem Homage to Endre Tót in 1977. Fluxus member and polymath Ken Friedman argues that Tót’s importance lies in giving “a discrete and particular voice to the emptiness of the void,” a practice in the lineage of Arabic and Indic conceptions of the zero as a key to transcendence. At the very least the zero is the symbol of a universal language, understood across cultures where little else would be.
Darling Green thanks the generous lenders, friends and actors who have made this show possible:
Endre Tót, Kata Balázs and András Heszky, acb Gallery, Budapest; Jay Cantor and Stella Cilman, Artists Space; Beth Rudin DeWoody; György Galántai and Emese Kürti, ArtPool Art Research Center; John Armleder, Benoit Charron and Julien Fronsacq, Ecart Archive, MAMCO, Geneva; Allison Chomet and Nicholas Martin, Fales Libray, NYU; Péter Farkas; Picasso Gaglione and Darlene Domel; Niels Lomholt; Neon Gallery, Budapest; Stephen Perkins; Keith Gray, Hannah Marshall, and Max Schumann, Printed Matter; Mark Bloch; Laura Donohue; Ben DuVall; Alice Centamore, Emily Harvey Foundation; Fabian Farkas; Peter Frank; Ken Friedman; Rose Gold; Wendy Grogan; Orsolya Hegedüs; David Horvitz; Jeremy Johnston; Adam Katyi; Klara Kemp- Welch; Cyrus Lewis; Emily Makert; Tom Marioni; Barbara Moore; Peter Nesbett; Esa Nickle, Performa; Géza Perneczky; Maria Ilario, Ray Johnson Estate; Adrienne Rodewaldt; Stephen Russell; Elizabeth Riordan, Timothy Shipe and Giselle Simon, Sackner Archive, University of Iowa; Kate Sullivan; András Szántó; Jasmina Tumbas; Patrick Urwyler