György Jovánovics: /THE PATTERN/

fine arts

November 11, 2021 | Thursday | 18.00

In copperation with the Kisterem Galéria

opens: Nóra Demeter és Gábor Zoboki

finissage: 06 12 2021

The architects of MÜPA, a multipurpose cultural center in Budapest, Gábor Zoboki and Nóra Demeter, contacted Jovánovics to commission an artwork of nearly 1000 m2 composed of gypsum plaster reliefs for the doors of reverberation chambers in the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall, that lays in the center of the complex and can host an audience of 1700. An important request of the commission was to create a surface that is instead of being white should be bright and multicolor. (Jean Nouvel has used the natural white tone of gypsum plaster in a similar built environment.)

The incorporation of the so called reverberation chambers was the idea of Russel Johnson, a renowned American expert of acoustics. Prior to his innovations, concert halls were intact, physically closed spaces, with advantages or disadvantages. However, Johnson did find a solution to create interiors whose cubic capacity could be adjusted. Johnson came up with a way of changing the volume of air in concert halls by building concealed empty spaces, which he termed “reverberation chambers”, into the walls of the galleries above ground level on both sides of the hall. These chambers have enormous doors facing towards the auditorium, which are made of 10-cm-thick concrete plus 2–5 cm of plaster – whose outstanding capability to reflect sound was explored by Johnson – and which can be remotely opened and closed, depending on the requirements of the music, enabling the cubic capacity – and therefore the reverberation time – to be adjusted at will.

He also determined that the visible, outer surface of the sound-reflecting doors should be of variable textures (smooth, plicate, ruffled). The thickness of the plaster panels was set at 2 cm, in addition to which, for each unit, the proportions between the staggered raised surfaces and the proportions between the smooth and non-smooth surfaces was maintained at 1, 2 or 3 cm. These requirements were valid for the first and second galleries’ 1,8-ton-heavy doors, as the third level’s doors of 4,8 tons were to be smooth.

Jovánovics was recommended to the architects by a colleague of theirs. Jovánovics elevated gyspum plaster as the main media of his sculpting, and he started to produce his reliefs during his DAAD scholarship years in Berlin. At the beginning, he worked with 1-mm plaster surfaces, that he named jovanographs. During the years, the volume of the height of the works rose and by the time of the planning process of MÜPA, his works’ sizes were matching with that of Johnson’s acoustic requirements.

The sculptor said yes to the commission and agreed to let Johnson periodically visit his studio to overview the proper making of the acoustic gypsum reliefs.

Jovánovics then worked together with the architects and the acoustician to determine the specifications for the modules of the plaster acoustic reliefs that would cover the doors (whose width are similar but their height is different on the three floors). Eventually, a module measuring 100×80 cm seemed ideal. The artist produced twelve acoustic reliefs of this size. These works can be regarded as separate works of art in their own right, although they are true acoustic elements, fulfilling every specification laid down by Johnson. A separate piece was also created, with a size of 100 x 3 x 3 cm, a stripe that can span freely above the raster-like composition of modules.

Jovánovics first prepared the colour plan for the entire right wall of the concert hall. (This plan also functions as a mirror image of the opposite wall.) He chose seven colours: ochre, iron oxide brown, iron oxide red, umber, caput mortuum, ultramarine blue, and cadmium red. The main principle behind the colour plan is that the individual blocks of colour do not comply with the architectonic system, and are spread arbitrarily across the horizontal divisions of the galleries and the vertical divisions of the reverberation chamber doors, thus making the physical space “dissolve”.

The next stage involved Jovánovics drawing all the reverberation chamber doors, each of which was composed out of the eleven given units. By projecting the color plan onto the entire surface, he could work out how many copies of each unit had to be produced, and in which colors. The plaster manufactory produced silicon rubber negatives of the twelve elements, which were used to produce the required amount of pieces. It is important to note that the pieces were not painted, but the pigment was mixed into the water for the plaster, so their entire mass is the same color.

The composition for one of the side walls (and therefore also for its reflection on the opposite wall) was determined by Constructivist tradition, supplemented with some visual forms of music. Jovánovics took his inspiration from, among other things, some sheet music by György Kurtág, the square notes used in Gregorian notation, and the image of a scenario for an artistic performance.

There is another work by Jovánovics in the concert hall. Behind the orchestra podium and the choir gallery, and beneath the organ, there was a broad strip which, for aesthetic reasons, would not have worked too well with the Constructivist reliefs used on the walls. For this space, Jovánovics designed a special element, consisting of a curtain motif, also made of plaster. (Early in his career, Jovánovics often used this motif.)  The plaster in this case, however, is neither white nor coloured, but covered in a layer of 24-carat gold leaf. This combination of curtain and gold in the middle of a performance space results in a work that is simultaneously an optical illusion (the curtain seems to vibrate, although it is completely motionless) and a post-modernist joke, a paraphrase of kitsch. Back into the modernist space, with its pure and simple lines, he has smuggled the splendid grandeur of the traditional theatre.

On this exhibition, the original test reliefs are on display