Spotlight on Hungarian artist Ilona Keserü’s bold experiments with surface abstraction at Frieze Masters

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What do you want to know: This week, Stephen Friedman Gallery presents the work of Hungarian artist Ilona Keserü (b. 1933) at the Frieze Masters art fair in London. Featuring pieces that highlight Keserü’s decades-long commitment to abstraction, the presentation includes a variety of mediums the artist has used – from oil on cardboard to stitched linen – emphasizing the experimental and exploratory nature of his practice. Keserü has lived, worked and studied primarily in and around Budapest throughout his career, and the cultural and artistic traditions of Hungary have played a major role in the development of his personal style. Moreover, much of his work can be linked to modes of rebellion against the prescriptive aesthetic pushed during the communist period, when Hungary was under the control of the USSR. Focusing on works of art produced in the 1970s and 1980s, the gallery exhibition offers an in-depth and multifaceted look at the development of Keserü practice during a distinct period in both the career of the artist and on the geopolitical level.

Why we love it: In the early 1960s, Keserü worked as an illustrator, as well as a decorator and costume designer. The works presented by the gallery reflect the professional journey of the artist through the prism of the dominant modes of abstraction in the West, despite the fact that Keserü worked behind the iron curtain. The illustrative quality of his work is particularly clear, as is the extensive use of hard-edge painting techniques in many of his compositions, as in Hanging object B-4 (1981), where three areas of painting with sharp outlines could be interpreted as the study of pure form and color. Alternatively, the shapes could represent very abstract tables or tombstones – a recurring motif in Keserü’s work. Elsewhere, as in Color-Mirror (1982), the representation of space is made literal by the inclusion of a mirror, with bands of gradient colors superimposed on top, illustrating both Keserü’s fearless use of materials and his refusal to be confined by traditional mediums such as painting on canvas or sculpture made of clay or stone.

According to the Gallery: “With a career spanning over 70 years, Keserü is one of Hungary’s leading post-war abstract artists. This exhibition focuses on works from the 1970s and early 1980s and demonstrates the breadth of his practice, spanning several disciplines including painting, sculpture and work on paper. Keserü’s distinctive approach combines references to Hungarian folk culture with modern art and historic Western European architecture. The artist’s organic abstract style developed in defiance of Soviet domination, following the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. His liberal use of form and bold palette expressed a refusal to conform and an affinity with the ideals beyond the iron curtain.

See more work by Ilona Keserü below.

Ilona Keseru, Big Earth, Water (1985). Courtesy of the artist; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; Kisterem, Budapest. Photo: Stephen White and Co.

Ilona Keserü, Color-Mirror (1982).  Courtesy of the artist;  Stephen Friedman Gallery, London;  Kisterem, Budapest.  Photo by Stephen White and Co.

Ilona Keseru, Color-Mirror (1982). Courtesy of the artist; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; Kisterem, Budapest. Photo: Stephen White and Co.

Ilona Keseru, Hanging object B-2 (nineteen eighty one). Courtesy of the artist; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; Kisterem, Budapest. Photo: Stephen White and Co.

Ilona Keserü, Suspended object B-4 (1981).  Courtesy of the artist;  Stephen Friedman Gallery, London;  Kisterem, Budapest.  Photo by Stephen White and Co.

Ilona Keseru, Hanging object B-4 (nineteen eighty one). Courtesy of the artist; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; Kisterem, Budapest. Photo: Stephen White and Co.

Ilona Keseru, Agreement A (1976). Courtesy of the artist; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; Kisterem, Budapest. Photo: Stephen White and Co.

Ilona Keserü, Color Column (1974).  Courtesy of the artist;  Stephen Friedman Gallery, London;  Kisterem, Budapest.  Photo by Stephen White and Co.

Ilona Keseru, Color column (1974). Courtesy of the artist; Stephen Friedman Gallery, London; Kisterem, Budapest. Photo: Stephen White and Co.

Ilona Keserü’s work is presented by Stephen Friedman Gallery at Frieze MastersLondon, October 12-16, 2022.

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