Heavy metal pictures
It is hardly possible to give a better title to Marcell Németh’s show than the one chosen for his exhibition at Hegyvidék Gallery last year: Alien Reality. It is a perfect description of the artist’s use of materials and the pictorial world of his works. It connects the hardness of the cold, grey steel with the familiar interior and exterior spaces constructed with them: industrial, peripheral and roadside landscapes, undergrounds, escalators, interiors of vehicles and the vaults of laid-out churches depicted from a peculiar – mainly bottom – perspective. These uninhabited images further intensify the anxiety we feel when finding ourselves alone in similar environments, on the dead edge of a city, a bleak underground passage, or being the only passenger on a tram. Marcell Németh’s new series is also imbued with some melancholy as he looks out from the intimacy and closed space of his studio at images of the outside world filtering through the window: at the web of winding branches and verdant green leaves delineated by the geometrical order of window frames. These days, the artist paints only a minimalistic motif, a kind of mark, on the surface of the cold metal: tiny leaves, a traffic sign and red-and-white-checkered bands on industrial chimneys to enhance the plasticity of the materials and reduce their gloominess.
The lack of people in these works do not merely form part of the artistic concept but also results from the fact that the technique Németh uses does not easily lend itself to figurative representation. Steel is one of the hardest materials to mould, posing many challenges to the sculptor. Its hard surface cannot be spontaneously shaped and mistakes cannot be instantly corrected. Hence the extremely careful planning that precedes the implementation. Photographs serve as a starting point, followed by a precise drawing on paper, which the artist then transfers at a scale of 1:1 to a metal sheet using a laser cutter, a burin and other metal-working tools during a physically demanding process. The light and shadow contrasts of the overlaid motifs, the lines incised in various depths, the polishing and the chemical reactions used during the finishing jointly produce the matte and/or shiny tones of the works, the more recent ones already complemented with the already-mentioned tiny specks of colour, automatically catching the viewer’s eye first. As Noémi Szabó described it, “[Marcell Németh’s] reliefs on the borderline of two- and three-dimensionality can be regarded as the results of a plastic experiment that simultaneously convey the planar quality of paintings, the spatial aspect of sculptures and the characteristics of graphic thinking only to be transformed into sculptural works by the fourth element: the right kind of natural light and lighting.”
The visually most compelling works with the most complex perspectives feature pylons. Driving to Vienna before Christmas, on a lustreless morning, high-voltage pylons slicing across the road and vanishing into the distance in both directions with their web of quasi parallel power lines were ‘coming up against us’ one after the other on the M1 motorway. An ordinary, mundane sight for travellers, yet I realised for the first time how they dominate the landscape with their mass and dimensions and that despite being very similar, they are different; gracefully reticulated but also monumental and robust. In reality the blunt and dull air-space resembles the grey colour of Németh’s steel reliefs, although of course the facture and the light and shade contrasts of the superimposed layers make the reliefs more artistic. These pylons are constructivist masterpieces in their own right, and having noticed their aesthetic value, Marcell Németh elevated them into the protagonists of a group of his works (Landscape, Transitional Space, Close Angle series). He constructed and cut his pylons out with the same level of engineering precision as the producers of the original objects. The composition of the exterior and the interior, closed spaces evokes a sense of boundless, open space converging into a distant vanishing point; moreover, in some cases, the plane, figurative surface of the steel sheet is curved or bent, adding a new dimension to the pictorial space.
Structures akin to pylons are the giant cranes, which are assigned a key role in some of Németh’s works: indeed, in recent years, they inspired him to work together with a fellow artist and combine his sculptures with other genres. Marcell Németh and video artist Andrea Sztojánovits provide an intermedial interpretation of still images, put them into motion and paint the grey landscape with light accompanied by the electro-acoustic music of Mïus.
Industrial objects and environments have captured the attention of many artists in the twentieth century spanning from the machine cult of futurists, through constructivist architectures reduced to geometric forms and the precise designs of the Neue Sachlichkeit to the mature forms and colours of the minimalists. The majority of the great predecessors who work with steel (e.g. Carl Andre) exploit the weight and monumentality of the material with the means of minimalism in their space-forming installations. Bernar Venet makes giant non-figurative installations and gesture-like reliefs instead of narratives. Richard Serra, the most influential artist in this regard, does not depict landscapes but penetrates into natural and urban spaces with his gigantic walls constructed from bent sheets and his geometric blocks interfere with the built environment where they are placed. What connects these artists is that their works are actually produced by the industry – by construction engineers and builders – and they do not leave their personal mark on every stage of the creative process. Evidently, the works of the above-mentioned contemporaries are realised with a significantly larger budget than is available for a Hungarian artist. In any case, Marcell Németh is still young and we do trust that the Dunaújváros Steel Sculptors’ Colony and Symposium, re-launched in 2017, will provide a new perspective for a talented sculptor like him following his own path with his steel reliefs.
Marianna Mayer, curator of the exhibition