A variety of new interesting movements and initiatives stirred the Hungarian art scene from the late 1960s on, which had been slowly getting more invaluable and lapsing into boredom after 1956. The first major event to generate excitement was the Studio exhibition of 1966 without a jury, marking the first appearance of a new generation of avant-garde artists, followed by individual shows and then again a group exhibition in 1968 in Budapest. The events of the progressive arts movements unfolding in the 1970s took place on official, semi-official and underground forums and arenas, and only in the 1980s were the ideological and administrative fetters of Hungarian socialist art policy partially removed; only then was the contemporary Hungarian arts scene able to abandon its defensive positions and to distance itself publicly from official art. Painting, graphics and sculpture were closely watched over by the establishment, and every work, every exhibition piece could only be seen by the public after it had been cleared by centralized jury. In contrast, the so-called decorative arts enjoyed relative freedom. Textiles, for example, went through an unusually eventful period from the turn of the 1960s and 70s, marked by the appearance of a generation with a new outlook, a renewal of genres and the creation of excellent works. In a like vein, ceramics too underwent major changes. This period in Hungarian art saw the introduction of the concept of 'border line' in art criticism and art history, indicating that the previously strict categories of genres had disintegrated, and that fabrics, tools, techniques, expressions, functions and roles could be mixed and were interchangeable.
The changes in ceramics could be anticipated somewhat earlier: the commissioned works of monumental architectural ceramics - made by Árpád Csekovszky, József Garányi, Viktor Janáky, János Majoros and, later, Imre Schrammel - were major creations conceived in a modern spirit which, however, kept a certain distance from the official socialist realist ideal. These works included a number of abstract compositions that at the time were still viewed with suspicion in Hungarian art - such abstract works were hardly tolerated in the 1960s. Beside the works exuding a fresh spirit in monumental genres, utilitarian and, more importantly, ornamental ceramics - small ceramic sculptures - underwent a radical change witnessed by the visitors of the Pécs ceramics biennials which were initiated in the meantime and the ones paying attention to the work done by the participants of the ceramic working camps: Ceramics, an incredibly versatile material suitable for applying a wide variety of technological procedures, was stripped of the pejorative undertones of ornamentality and, revealing a commitment to a sculptural function and to contemporary artistic currents, became an increasingly exciting artistic medium.
After graduating from the Applied Arts College in 1965, Levente Thury entered this strictly regulated arts scene that nonetheless offered certain opportunities and was infused with new artistic initiatives and currents. His initial, traditionally conceived works reflect a drive to vest his creations with plasticity: each of his works displays playful motifs, and one can sense an attempt to disrupt all that is regular with something irregular. In his review of Thury's early works, István Solymár writes the following about one of his outstanding early compositions: "Levente Thury has a ceramics all-round sculpture which has been named Behemoth. This Behemoth is a repository of antitheses. Although its body is ceramic, it has no function; nothing can be stored or poured into it. It is uselessness incarnate, and it is not even pretty, making it unsuitable for being an ornamental object. Behemoth is bad, ugly, who would gladly strike, but is unable even to poke at something. It is a creature bewitched by laughter which has magically transformed it into a playfully small and weak being. A harmlessly wicked creature which would gladly revel in his badness, it lacks even the ability to misbehave. It has been transformed by the power of playfulness. It is spellbound by a miracle, similar to the malicious figures bound by voodoo rites in deepest Africa. It is the embodiment of an ancestral desire, superstition, rite - overwhelming wickedness with the playful twist of the miracle. The Behemoth is an incredibly primary creature, at home in the Hungarian world. A lesson in history, a folk experience and a popular form. It inspires laughter and, at the same time, illuminates and liberates. Behemoth is the anti-hero, the anti anti, Behemoth is not surrealism, but a veritable parable of realism."
István Solymár's1 perceptive description not only sums up the characteristics of the early creative phase, but in a sense also prognosticates the creative perspectives open to the young artist. Looking back from the late nineties, we may say that Levente Thury's oeuvre has been at all times suffused with and dominated by playfulness, a free transformation of the material discarding all strict rules yet later transformed into a strong attraction to the mystic, to the transcendent, reflected by and achieved through the creation of the sculptural nature of ceramics, the objectification of an autonomous intellectual content.
The vases, boxes and other good for nothing objects populated by minute figures and fairy-tale-like creatures - small sculptures of twinkling absurdity - predestined Levente Thury to be commissioned to create ceramic wall pictures, primarily for children's institutions. Colors and glazes, breathing life into the colors, play an important role in these montage-like compositions, displaying animals and human figures with a sophisticated echo of folk art motifs. This is true of the wall picture made for the Százhalombatta kindergarten in 1973 and the relief for the Miskolc orphanage made in 1975. A pendulum clock was also included among the montage elements built into the relief that almost matures into a work of sculpture. The wall picture made for the hall of the Kecskemét hospital is also imbued with intense sculptural elements. The pieces made from Marcali and Hajdúböszörmény in 1980 and 1981 - when Thury was offered the opportunity to emerge from the internal space into the open - were real sculptures the visitor can go around. In Marcali, the relief elements are applied onto a rectangular base, while the small niche-like creation made for the garden of the Kindergarten Teacher Training College in Hajdúböszörmény has stylized adult and children figures. In 1983 he also made two glazed tree of life reliefs for the Baroque manor house in Krasznokvajda. For the next ten years, however, he received no other commissions spurring him to create monumental works. The creative program inspired by the golem myth - which has determined his work since 1983-84 and which can be fitted into his oeuvre as a phase rich in a diverse range of creations - was perhaps a counterpoint to these ten idle years. Similarly to the "Line" and "Colon" collective exhibitions organized together with other colleagues, the first golem exhibition, shown in the Óbuda exhibition hall of the Budapest Gallery in 1984, was conceived as a thematic exhibition. In the catalogue, Gábor Attalai notes that "the Bible mentions the golem but once: an "unformed substance" (Psalms 139: 16). According to the Aggada, in the second hour of his creation, Adam was still a golem, a body without a soul (Sanhedrin 386). We might even say that he was little more than shapeless clay in the sculptor's hands. What else is there to be known about the golem? According to a Hungarian dictionary, the golem was the huge clay figure brought to life in medieval Jewish mysticism. 'An artificial being', according to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 65B). The Babylonian Amora produced a golem in the 4th century, but when he tried to converse with it, the golem stubbornly kept its silence and did not even deign to look at its creator, let alone speak to him. The Amora angrily smashed it to pieces. ... The golem first appears as a figure of terror in the 16th century. One weekend, Rabbi Eliyahu of Chelm forgot to remove the slip of paper inscribed with God's name from under the golem's tongue and the clay giant, which had gotten accustomed to his day of rest, smashed everything to pieces in a fit of anger."
In a 1996 conversation Thury mentions his personal links to the golem legends. On his father's side he is the descendant of a noble family which received its nobility from the very same Rudolf II who ruled Prague when Rabbi Löw made his renowned golem, and on his mother's side, family tradition holds that the same Rabbi Löw is an ancestor. Beside this personal link, the parallels in materials, techniques and the transformation of the material helped inspire the creation of the golem cycle. The artist's interest in philosophy and his introspective nature meditative way of thinking also contributed.
At the 1984 Budapest exhibition, the golem, usually considered a monster of a creature, was - with a characteristic Thury trouvaille - depicted with a multitude of tiny figures. The art critic of Magyar Nemzet wrote a lengthy review about the exhibition, in which he noted that "in contrast to its tiny, barely three or four centimeter compatriots in Budapest, the Golem of Prague was an alarming and huge creature. In one part of the exhibition hall, dozens of golems are perched atop white rods, with magnifying glasses hung in-between them, to allow visitors to scrutinize them in detail. What is this, if not the outcry of painful solitude? Figures that are fatally distanced from each other, inspected through a loupe by the inquisitive outsiders. ... When a rabbi was drawn to fear his golem and he tricked it and removed the slip of paper inscribed with God's name, the huge creature was shattered into thousands of clay fragments. In another part of the Óbuda exhibition hall the clay husk of fragmented human body parts can be seen beside the golems forced into solitude. Are these the fragments of the tricked, deceived giant, devoid of any cunning, who blindly believed in his strength?"
Following this exhibition which in terms of its theme can be said to have been introductory, Levente Thury and his golem collection, which gradually grew to include life-size figures, toured various cities in the U.S. These compositions appeared as reliefs linked to walls or as independent sculptures laid on the ground or set free in space. From the turn of the eighties and the nineties ceramics as a material and a technique was coupled with other fabrics, and the clay elements gradually faded into the background, and rags, shreds of tablecloths and carpets, rusted chains, rotting planks, locks, intubation tubes, various appliances, frame fragments, the tiny mementos of personal remembrance, identity cards, coins and bric-a-brac were added to the ceramic body fragments and faces.
Parallel to the change in size, the greater variability in materials and tools, the mood, the tone and the nature of Thury's new works also changed: playfulness and lightness became tinted or eroded by more tragic and somber colors, benevolence was replaced by aggressiveness. Thury's golems from the nineties are more fragmented than complete, shattered rather than intact, and their associated artifacts too are relic-like, fragmented, torso-like. A mythical creature surrounded by everyday objects - the first plane of conflict. The limbs of the creature are divorced from the body, the head - wearing a benevolent or slightly inane smile - floats strangely as if it were unable to find its place. The natural points of interaction, the origins are uncircumscribable, indefinable. The bodies are empty, husk-like. The golem ceramics are mostly grayish, colorless - exuding a feeling of monotony, triviality and emptiness.
In the nineties Thury created a wall-fountain - conceived in the spirit of the clay creature myth and its symbolism - from golem heads, stylized shells and frame fragment motifs in the lounge of the new wing of a Budapest hospital. He also continued to exhibit his golems in Budapest and other Hungarian cities. In the text accompanying his most recent, 1996 exhibition in Budapest, Levente Thury, the golem-maker, confessed to the fact that "furthermore, the golem-maker announces that he intends to make several other golems which, filling an immense part of his personality, can serve as repositories or resuscitators of jealously guarded mementoes."
As a result of the ceramist-sculptor Levente Thury's work, an exciting story that cannot be precisely set in time or space continues to unfold according to its own internal rules, oscillating between the mystic and the concrete, and the chapters gradually refine into legends.
1: István Solymár: art historian, the chief editor of Művészet, the deputy manager of Hungarian National Gallery in the '60s, a supporter of modernism