1941 was the year he was born, on the seventeenth of June. The house in the small town of Bikács where he first saw the light of day had been built by his grandfather, a resourceful, self-made man of peasant stock, and a successful merchant. The Russians came for him at the end of the war, and he disappeared forever; his home and business were "nationalized". György grew up with several things weighing heavily upon him: his strict religious upbringing, his fear of deportation, his family's penury, and his "disgraceful" bourgeois background.
1956: The revolution found him in Nagydorog, where he made placards for the demonstrators. His application to the School for Plastic Art was turned down as a result. ("His conduct during the counterrevolution makes him unworthy of being a student at our school", reads the letter of rejection sent him by the Budapest high school.) He was allowed to enrol at the Technical School for Road Construction in Székesfehérvár.
While in school, he attended whatever study groups for drawing that he could. He was greatly impressed by the works of the Cubists and the Futurists, and was smitten with geometrical shapes. Drawing intricate, inter-penetrating three-dimensional geometric figures and their shadows was his favorite pastime.
1960: At the Keszthely Helikon Festival (a national competition for high school students), he won first prize in the plastic art category. That same year, he held his first exhibition at the technical school, which, in
1961, awarded him a building technician's diploma.
Worked in construction as a technician for two years, until, in
1963, he was accepted at the department of painting of the Hungarian academy of fine Arts. He spent a lot of time at some of the other departments, for he was keenly interested in printed graphics, in molding, in mural techniques, applied graphics and croquis. Of the theoretical courses, he preferred architecture, philosophy, and music. He built himself a printer, and took up photography in earnest. Spent most of his free time going to flee markets and antique shops.
1966: Came upon the abandoned funeral chapel at Balatonboglár while at a summer camp on Lake Balaton. Made friends with the local pastor, and decided to rent the chapel as a studio.
1967: Graduated, and decided to be a freelance artist. He hoped to make his living doing applied graphics.
1968: Signed a fifteen-year lease with the Catholic Church for the Körmendy Chapel at Balatonboglár. In lieu of rent, he undertook to preserve the chapel from further deterioration.
1969: Held his first solo exhibition of "psycho-symbolic" and other experimental paintings at the Young Artists' Club (YAC) in Budapest.
1970: Was awarded the National Council of Trade Unions Prize for his painting 'Door for Our Descendants' on display at the Debrecen Summer Exhibition. (He and Pál Kő shared the prize.) On the way home from the ceremony, he decided to give up painting. Returned to experimenting with graphics (deconstruction of drawings into graphic elements, collage, montage, prints, photograms, etc.), something he'd started doing in 1968.
1970-1973: Organized and ran the "Chapel Exhibitions" of avant-garde art held all summer in the chapel at Balatonboglár. Altogether 35 exhibitions, concerts, poetry recitals, theatrical performances, and film showings were held in those 4 years, featuring the best of Hungary's (undesirable) avant-garde artists, and guest artists from abroad. Some highlights: 1972: the first exhibition of conceptual art in Hungary; Avant-Garde Festival (which had been banned in Budapest); István Haraszty's kinetic statues (banned in Budapest); 1972-73: performances by the banned Kassák Theater; 1973: the first exhibition of visual poetry in Hungary; etc.
1971: Started dealing with the problem of signs and their meaning, and came up with a system of visual signs. His series of prints, 'Signs of Existence', was put on display at the Balatonboglár Chapel Studio, and in the foyer of the Madách Theater in Budapest.
Other exhibitions of the 'Signs' series: Békéscsaba Cultural Center (1972), Szentendre Outdoor Exhibition (1973), Budaörs Gallery (1976), and Bercsényi College (1976).
1971: The article 'Some Avante-Garde Artists Defy the Law' in the 'Somogyi Néplap' kicked off the campaign of official harassment directed against the Chapel Exhibitions: the police, the Department of Public Health, the building authorities, the Fire Department, the National Insurance Company, the local, the district, and the county councils, their cultural departments and party committees, and the Cultural Committee of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party would all take part in it.
1972: Hitchhiked to Germany to see the Documenta in Kassel, and to visit Géza Perneczky in Cologne. He didn't find Perneczky, but came upon the 'Depot', a square devoted to alternative art. He was positively spellbound, particularly by an "international shelf" containing information on and conceptual works by some fifty artists, Endre Tót, Tamás Hencze, and Géza Perneczky among them.
1973: Galántai sold everything he had to be able to keep the Chapel Studio going that summer. He enclosed blank postal money orders with the programs he mailed out, counting on his friends to understand the need for their support. Gestures of solidarity by Endre Bálint, Gyula Illyés, Máté Major, Lajos Németh and others were what kept him going.
1973, April: 'Packaged Exhibition'. The chairman of the Lektorátus (for all practical purposes a board of censors) rejected the majority of the works slated to go on display at the Hotel Műszaki. He countered by putting the proscribed works on display wrapped in paper.
1973, August: The Chapel Studio was closed by the police, and the Catholic Church was obliged by the Ministry of Culture to take legal action to terminate Galántai's lease; the incriminating "evidence" was provided by the police.
1973, December 16: the cultural supplement of the Népszabadság carried 'Happening in the Crypt', a full-page indictment written by László Szabó, editor in chief of the crimes column. Galántai became a "famous artist" overnight: for years, he would get no work, his acquaintances would be afraid to be seen with him on the street, he was penniless, and his teeth fell out from malnutrition. By trial and error, he learned how to do screen printing; what saved him from starvation was an order from a tradesman for some gaudy souvenir tablecloths. Secretly, his friends tried to help him: at László Rajk's instigation, for instance, the members of the István Kovács Studio collected money on his behalf.
1974: The Military Service Board called on the Arts Foundation to suspend his membership, but his fellow artists refused to ban him.
All the while he remained active as an "underground" artist.
1974: Created a work as a backdrop to László Najmányi's lecture, 'Blind Chance', held at the YAC*; the work is called "Mistaken Connection of the Primary and Secondary Signalling Systems" (for example, the word "red" is painted in green).
*In 1974, László Beke was appointed Artistic Director of the YAC which, in the 1970s and '80s, had a dual function: it was a place to "let off steam", and it was an easy way for the authorities to keep the avant-garde under surveillance.
1974: Spring Exhibition at the YAC: received a prize for his 'Direct Objects' a reflection on Nóra Aradi's book, 'Symbols in Socialist Fine Art'.
1974: 'Visual Action Model', a conceptual work, put on display at the annual exhibition of the Young Artists' Studio.
1975: Invited to take part in the Steel Sculpture Symposium at Dunaújváros, where he created his classic sculptures, all of them conceptual objects: 'An Objectified Strategy for Living' (his first large-scale outdoor sculpture), 'Medium Cultivator', 'Anti-Shovel' (The Disoperation of Implements), the 'Main-Road-Sign Group', and the first two of his sole/footprint sculptures, 'One-Legged', and 'Counter-Stepper'.
1975: His one-man exhibition at the Ferencváros Basement Gallery was an attempt to go beyond the traditional boundaries of plastic art. Instead of putting up posters, he plastered the town with four-inch square screen-print stickers (a novelty in Budapest at the time). The invitation to the exhibition-featuring the imprint of a halved rubber stamp bearing the words 'Counter Value'-was itself conceived as a work of art. The introduction to the catalogue was written by László Beke, under the pseudonym "Éva Baráth".
1976: 'Creativity Exercises' at the Ganz Cultural Center, in association with Miklós Erdély and Dóra Maurer.
1976, July: One-man exhibition at the Studio Gallery, featuring his 'Transformations with Myself' series, a set of large-size screen prints. The exhibition was opened with a performance by Miklós Erdély. The catalogue, which looks and folds up like an ID-card, was Galántai's first bookwork. The invitation was a postcard, stamped with his first artistamp-work.
The 'Transformations with Myself' series was put on exhibit also in Fougères, France (1978), at the Lajos Vajda Studio, Szentendre (1978), and in Die, France (1991).
1976, autumn: Took part in 'Breathing', an event held at the Rózsa Coffee Shop. It is here that he met Júlia Klaniczay, who would become his wife and co-worker.
1977: Exhibition of 'Medium Cultivator', a cast iron sculpture, at the Mini Gallery of Újpest; the exhibit was opened with a recording of László Beke's reading of Gergely Molnár's imaginative essay, 'Galántai Exhibition in New York' (1974?). (This was the first that Galántai himself heard of this writing, and it made a lasting impression on him.)
1977: Spent some of the summer at the Makó Artist Colony. Started working on experimental graphics based on the object-imprint relationship. Completed 'Double Approach to Reality (Hat, Ship)'.
1977, autumn: Was offered the opportunity to make iron sculptures at the Csepel Iron and Metal Works, on condition he qualified as a certified gas and arc welder. It was here that-using scrap material-he created his large-scale copper book objects, as well as his first scrap metal sculptures.
1978, spring: Went off to Amsterdam with Júlia Klaniczay. They got to know Ulisses Carrion and his alternative bookstore, visited the De Appel art center, which had a public video archive, as well as the Fodor Museum, with its collection of performance documents and performance installations.
1978, fall: An exhibition of Galántai's five book objects and their imprints at the Fészek Club in Budapest. The exhibition was opened by Anna Banana, the Neo-Dada performance artist prominent in alternative and mail art circles, who was visiting Hungary at the time. It was Galántai's idea that she read a Hungarian text written for the occasion by András Bán.
The same year yet, the exhibition was put on display at the Pécs Youth Center Gallery.
By way of making contact with the "world outside", the English-Hungarian poster that served as the exhibition's catalogue was mailed to hundreds of people all over the world, with the stamped message: "Please send me information about your activity".
1979: Sending out the catalogue proved to be a surprisingly good idea. Practically everyone on the mailing list replied, and by late spring they had an entire shelf full of catalogues, letters and mail art. The "free world" had made its way into the Galántais' home, and offered a new form of communal activity to fill the hiatus left by the closing of the Chapel Studio in 1973.
1979, March: They decided to "institutionalize" their new activity, and set up the Artpool Archive. Galántai designed the Artpool logo, made stamps and a rubber stamp, and printed* picture postcards advertising Artpool.
*For the information of posterity: Up to 1989-90, every unauthorized duplication-printed, mimeographed, Xeroxed or stamped-of the printed word was illegal in Hungary, and was punishable by law. The way to get around the law was to take advantage of the special provisions regulating the reproduction of works of art.
1979: the Post Office refuses to deliver to Galántai the registered mail addressed to Artpool. To solve this problem, he asks the Arts Foundation to register Artpool as his professional name in his membership card.
1979 was the year Galántai started doing mail art; with a few interruptions, he's been doing it ever since. His personal involvement in the network is what guarantees the Artpool Archive's constant growth.
1979, May and June: Creates 36 new 'Trans-functioned Objects' at the Dunaújváros Iron Sculptors' Art Colony, with the enthusiastic help of the ironworkers of the "Forward Brigade". Revives a motif dating back to 1971, and completes his monumental sign sculpture, '1/2X=V'; for political reasons, it was not actually erected until 1982.
1979, summer: The first of the Galántais' Art Tours to Italy. They visited G.A. Cavellini, the guru of mail art (and arranged for him to visit Budapest in 1980), as well as several well-known visual poets: Ugo Carrega and his Mercato del Sale, and Adriano Spatola, the publisher of the Geiger anthologies, to name just two.
1979: At the opening of the 'Textile without textile' exhibition held at the YAC, Galántai put on a performance by the same title. Building on the theme of the exhibition, he organized and published the first-ever Hungarian "assembling", an anthology-created by 54 artists in 300 copies-whose every page was a signed and numbered original.
1979: For the Textile Art Symposium held in Velem, printed a gigantic self-portrait on four giant strips of cloth, and photographed them at a number of outdoor locations. The resulting 'Self-Transformation - the Transformation of Nature' series was shown.
also at the PIK Gallery, Budapest (1980), and at the Liget Gallery, Budapest (1983).
1980: Published 'The Artpool' in 1000 numbered copies. The picture booklet was a report on their activities to that time, and was the first issue of Pool Window, Artpool's mail art newsletter which ran to 30 issues.
Robert Filliou's request inspired the notion of Artpool's Periodical Space, which served as the hallmark motto for all events organized by Artpool at whatever location. There were over 20 such events up to and including 1987. Galántai considers most of them to be his own complex art works, from concept stage through realization to documentation.
1980: The first exhibition of the entire collection of Galántai's trans-functioned objects was held at the basement gallery of the Institut Français. The several hundred addressees never received the invitations mailed out by the Institut. Only those saw the exhibit who had heard of it by word of mouth. Galántai was summoned to the Plastic Art Department of the Ministry of Culture; instead of being commended for his work, he was seriously reprimanded for having organized the exhibition without the ministry's authorization.
May: Months of preparation had gone into the Cavellini exhibition that
monopolized every bit of space at the YAC.
23: birth of their daughter, Agnes (presented by Galántai as his
newest live sound sculpture)
1985: Won a one-year scholarship to the DAAD of West Berlin. Getting his passport and exit visa would take three years.
Took part in the 'New Lady Courier' performances.
'Stamp Images' exhibition of Artpool's Artistamp Collection at the Budapest
Museum of Fine Arts. Simultaneous exhibition of 'Envelopes' at the Liget
Piano of silence