Extremely Hungary Festival

A Year of Performances and Exhibitions in New York City and Washington, D.C., Celebrates Hungary’s Contemporary Arts and Impact on American Culture


Throughout 2009, American audiences will have an unprecedented opportunity to experience contemporary Hungarian culture through a broad spectrum of visual, literary and performing arts programming held at leading cultural institutions in New York and D.C. This yearlong festival, titled Extremely Hungary, will trace the roots of contemporary Hungarian culture and celebrate the innovations and artistic creations that Hungarians have made over the past century, many of which have had a strong impact on American culture.

Extremely Hungary highlights the enduring connections between America and Hungary, and the contributions that Hungarians and Hungarian-Americans have made to arts and culture—from the Bauhaus to Robert Capa, Casablanca to Béla Bartók. Programs will celebrate Hungary’s rich fin de siécle culture intandem with events that introduce contemporary Hungarian artists and performers, many of whom are renowned in Europe but not yet known in America. The festival reveals aspects of Hungary’s thriving contemporary culture through concerts, exhibitions, opera, new plays, literary symposia, and even such
whimsical events as a Hungarian moustache contest.

Organized by New York’s Hungarian Cultural Center, Extremely Hungary will be held at premiere arts institutions throughout the two cities, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, The Jewish Museum, and the 92nd Street Y in New York, and the National Gallery and Library of Congress in D.C.

“Hungary has witnessed tremendous change in the last hundred years, and its innovative cultural output reflects that dynamism,” said George Soros, chairman of Extremely Hungary. “Hungary’s contemporary visual, performing and literary arts reflect the extraordinary flux of politics and territory in modern Europe—imperialism, war, revolution, communism, the European Union, and the free market,” added festival chairwoman Kati Marton. Both Mr. Soros and Ms. Marton were born in Hungary and came to the U.S. as part of the twentieth-century immigration that brought waves of Hungarian talent to America.


The diverse programming of Extremely Hungary features some 30 events, ranging from exhibitions and performances to avant-garde installations and a modern reinterpretation of the traditional Austro-Hungarian opera ball. Alongside its cultural programming, Extremely Hungary will also address the impact of politics and of the fall of the Iron Curtain—2009 marks its 20th anniversary—with programs at the New York Public
Library and PEN World Voices.

“In the two decades since the fall of communism, Hungary has undergone a renaissance to reestablish itself as the Paris of the East, a moniker gained during the early 20th century when its cultural energy—the literary coffeehouses, the music of composers like Béla Bartók, the beginning of the Bauhaus—was practically unmatched in Europe,” said László Jakab Orsós, the Director of the Hungarian Cultural Center of New York. “Extremely Hungary will present this new generation of artists to American audiences, many for the first time.”

The festival kicks off in January 2009 at Carnegie Hall with “Celebrating Hungary,” a two-week concert series of Hungarian musicians and composers, featuring repertoire as diverse as Haydn’s courtly masterworks and composer and performer György Kurtág’s New York debut.

In the spring, the Jewish Museum will present “Danube Exodus,” an interactive multimedia installation of found footage by 2007 Erasmus Prize winner Péter Forgács. The installation traces two historic voyages on the Danube River: the first, the exodus of Jews escaping down the Danube in 1939, the second, a “reverse” exodus of Germans fleeing Soviets up the Danube one year later.

During the fall the International Center of Photography will present an exhibition of rarely seen photographs by Hungarian women social photographers of the 1920s and 30s, providing insight to an important and relatively unknown part of the history of Hungarian photography. The exhibition will be
enhanced by images of the photographers at work between the two wars.

Other programs in New York include:

 Productions of new Hungarian plays at the Lincoln Center Festival, an annual summer-long showcase of international theater;

 Cabarets of Hungarian music at the Neue Galerie’s Café Sabarsky;

 “Fire & Fire,” a cross-cultural performance juxtaposing Gypsy and African-American musical traditions, two rich cultures that have influenced music genres the world over;

 An exhibition at the Forbes Galleries showcasing ceramics by artisans at the legendary Zsolnay porcelain factory, including Art Nouveau masterworks;

 An underground music festival of revolutionary bands active in Eastern Europe in the 80s and their contemporary counterparts, in coordination with the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts;

 A 92nd Street Y miniseries on Hungarian culture, anchored by two concerts by Hungarian composers and featuring lectures on Hungarian science and literature;

 Exhibitions of contemporary Hungarian design at Bard Graduate Center and in conjunction with New York Design Week;

 A film series on avant-garde contemporary Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr at the Museum of Modern Art;

 “How They Lived,” a photography exhibition documenting Hungarian Jewish life before World War II at the Yeshiva University Museum.

Additional program venues include Danspace Project, the French Culinary Institute, and Brooklyn’s Galapagos Art Space and Radegast Beer Hall.

In Washington, D.C., festival events include:

 A specially-commissioned performance by György Kurtág of a new work inspired by Bartók’s music, presented at the Library of Congress;

 The exhibition of three treasures on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest—an El Greco painting, a Bronzino painting, and da Vinci bronze, at the National Gallery of Art;

 An exhibition at American University juxtaposing works by Lajos Vada, the most distinctive artist of the Hungarian avant-garde, with those of contemporary Hungarian artists;

 A concert by European folk sensation Bea Palya at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.



For as long as Europeans have settled the New World, Hungarians have been an integral part of America—during the American Revolution, Hungarian-American Michael de Kovats founded the nation’s cavalry. Since then, Hungarians have maintained a constant state of immigration to the United States, with surges following the Hungarian revolutions of 1848 and 1956. America is a country collaged of settlers and
immigrants, and Hungarians are embedded into our nation’s firmament.

In the 1930s, many talented Hungarian intellectuals immigrated to the United States—among them numerous internationally known scientists, artists, and filmmakers who would forever impact America. Forced into exile by the rising tide of fascism, they would alter the way we fight and prevent wars, help shape modern art, design, photography and cinema, and transform the way we communicate and view the world.

The thread of creative achievements by Hungarians and Hungarian-Americans has infused the fabric of American culture with contributions that helped to establish modern art movements. Bauhaus leaders Marcel Breuer and László Moholy-Nagy linked form and function with their highly influential International style; Breuer went on to design the Whitney Museum of American Art. Franz Liszt and Béla Bartók are considered among the greatest composers of the last two centuries, with legacies that extend to modern and contemporary compositions. Hungarians and Hungarian-Americans also made their mark in Hollywood: from entertainers Harry Houdini and Béla Lugosi, to business tycoons William Fox and Adolph Zukor, the founders of 20th Century Fox and Paramount Studios, respectively. Émigré Michael Curtiz directed Casablanca, one of the most influential films of all time, itself an anti-fascist treatise. The legacy of Hungarian-American entertainers continues today with Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Barrymore, Kate Hudson and Adrien Brody, among others.

Over a dozen Nobel Prize winners emerged from the mid-century generation of Hungarian talent, including innovators who helped usher in both the nuclear age and the age of the computer. Physicist Leó Szilárd discovered nuclear chain reactions, the foundation for the atomic bomb—and the discovery that fueled the Manhattan Project. In 1951, the Hungarian physicist Edward Teller, who had worked alongside Szilárd on the Manhattan Project, built on that work to conceive the hydrogen bomb. Meanwhile, Hungarian-born
computer scientist John Kemeny invented BASIC computer language, which made computers usable for the masses. A few decades later, fellow émigré Andrew Grove pioneered the Intel microprocessor.

New York remains the area with the largest concentration of Americans of Hungarian origin. First generation Hungarian-American political leaders include former New York governor George Pataki. Hungarian-American titans of industry include technology executive and space tourist Charles Simonyi and financier George Soros. These and many more form the body of exceptional individuals and contributions that are the foundation, and inspiration, of Extremely Hungary.



Dedicated to enhancing knowledge and appreciation of Hungarian culture, the Hungarian Cultural Center (HCC) organizes and supports a wide spectrum of events that celebrate Hungary’s past, present and future. Since its founding in 2001, the HCC has linked Hungarian artists and intellectuals with American audiences through exhibitions, lectures, concerts,
performances and screenings. The HCC has also partnered with major venues, including the New York Public Library and Lincoln Center, to bring its programming to larger

Extremely Hungary is made possible by funding from the Hungarian Ministry of Education and Culture.
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