Six years ago, officials of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art resolved to mount a show of early 20th-Century Hungarian art to show "the missing link in the worldwide chain of Modernism."
Now that job is done, and more.
On Saturday, "Standing in the Tempest," a collection of Hungarian works from 1908 to 1930, will begin its museum run as the top attraction in a citywide cultural festival that has been dubbed Hungarian Spring 1991.
On March 23, on the festival's official opening night, Sir Yehudi Menuhin will celebrate his 75th birthday and conduct the Santa Barbara Symphony in a rare performance of Hungarian composer Antal Dorati's "Peace" Symphony.
And over the next two months, festival organizers have laid plans for more than 30 symposiums, exhibitions and performances--an ambitious schedule, even in a community long inclined to throw festivals.
"This," local arts patron Eva Haller pronounced, "is a big deal for Santa Barbara."
Richard V. West, co-curator of the exhibit and until last month director of the museum, said the project is "probably the most elaborate and costly exhibition the Santa Barbara Museum of Art has ever done." He estimated the cost at $350,000, more than $250,000 of it covered by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The artists of the Hungarian avant-garde attracted him, West said, because they acted as a bridge between Russian artists, "who were very advanced in terms of abstract art," and western European movements such as Cubism and German Expressionism. Once the Hungarian repression rose in the 1920s, the leading artists "either dispersed . . . or their work was suppressed," West said. "So it was quite a challenge to find the things."
It may be a challenge, too, to find an artist in the show whose name has marquee value. After Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, who went on to win attention as a leader in the German Bauhaus movement, the show's list runs to names such as Lajos Kassak, Andor Weinenger and Sandor Bortnyick. However, West said, the inviting character of the work may give the show both academic and popular appeal.
Haller, who threw her support behind the museum project in its early stages, later became co-chair of the festival's steering committee. Tibor Frank, recently a visiting Fulbright professor at UC Santa Barbara, is the festival's director.
In 1989, after the museum exhibition was assured, Frank and Haller began enlisting the cooperation of leading Santa Barbara cultural organizations, many of which tailored their programs to fit the Hungarian Spring theme.
The two also forged alliances with Hungarian-American groups in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, which have placed 90 Hungarian flags along State Street and drafted an honorary board lofty enough to include Arpad Goncz, president of the Republic of Hungary. Hungary's minister of foreign affairs, Geza Jeszenszky, is expected as a guest on the festival's opening night.
If the exhibit and festival succeed, West said, they "should provide the American viewer with a broader sense of what was going on in the early 20th Century. You have to understand what went on right around World War I if you want to understand what's going on now in the arts."
Among the festival events:
* "Standing in the Tempest," an exhibition of 168 paintings, watercolors, prints, drawings and posters from 42 artists of the Hungarian avant-garde, was assembled by co-curators Steven Mansbach and Richard V. West. Drawn largely from the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest, the show will run at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art starting Saturday and ending May 12, and then travel to Kansas City and Champaign, Ill.
* "Hungarian Photographers of the Early 20th Century," including 16 works from Hungarian-born figures as diverse as Andre Kertesz and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, will also open Saturday and run through May 12 at the Santa Barbara museum.
* Lithographs of Lajos Kassak, Hungarian books from the early 20th Century and manuscripts by "the makers of modern Hungarian culture" will be displayed at the Karpeles Manuscript Library in Santa Barbara from March 23 to April 30.
* Sir Yehudi Menuhin, conducting the Santa Barbara Symphony, will present Dorati's Symphony No. 2 ("Peace" Symphony). On the same program, the symphony's music director, Varujan Kojian, will conduct Samuel Barber's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14, with violinist Michelle Makarski, and Zoltan Kodaly's "Hary Janos Suite." The program is scheduled for two performances at the Arlington Theatre: March 23 at 8 p.m. and March 24 at 3 p.m.
* Pianist Jerome Lowenthal will present a recital of music, "From Liszt to Bartok," at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Lobero Theatre.
* The Takacs String Quartet will play string quartets by Bela Bartok and Joseph Haydn at 8 p.m. April 5 in the Lobero Theatre, in a free concert sponsored by the Esperia Foundation.
* Organist David A. Gell will give a recital of Hungarian organ music at 8 p.m. April 7 in Trinity Episcopal Church.
In addition, the Hungarian Spring organizers have scheduled poetry recitals, documentary and feature film presentations, and a three-day conference on 20th-Century Hungarian culture and society at UC Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. More information is available from festival organizers at 566-7076.