Király Tamás legacy
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Name of collection
- Király Tamás legacy
Provenance and cultural activities
Avantgarde fashion designer Tamás Király’s legacy is not a collection in the literal sense of the word. What is left from his four-decades-long oeuvre and kept in his former Budapest apartment represents an absence in many ways. It illustrates the failures of innovative non-conformist culture to be integrated into ways of broader cultural consumption in late socialism. It demonstrates an anti-cultural attitude of that was often manifest in the compositions of many creative artists in the period. Finally, it sheds light on how mainstream post-communist culture is often unable to make any sense of the legacy of alternative cultural attitudes.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Király gradually became obsessed with fashion design. Initially, he worked as a decorator at a gallery. He then turned to a fashion boutique launched by the fashion designer Gizi Koppány in the very centre of Budapest called “New Art Studio,” until Koppány emigrated to Berlin in 1988. The boutique was visited by many artists for whom Koppány designed different kinds of costumes. The boutique also had another interesting feature: it had live window displays created by Tamás Király with live models. From this spot, he started his first “fashion walk” in 1981 (followed by many others), crossing the downtown area of Budapest to FMK (Fiatal Művészek Klubja, “Club for Young Artists”), of which Király was also a member. During these tours, professional models and his acquaintances took a walk wearing flashy and extravagant clothes designed by him. According to Király, these walks also served as a counterpoint to the grey, boring visual appearance of the city and its inhabitants (the socialist clothing industry provided only a poor assortment of garments).
FMK was an important venue of the 1980s Budapest art scene. Király was also part of the circle of conceptual artist Miklós Erdély. In 1983, he organised his first fashion show at FMK under the title “Hidden fashion.” Generally, avantgarde fashion in the 1980s did not exist in Hungary. Király was the only person who represented this kind of attitude and aesthetics.
Király constantly tried to question the boundaries of fashion design, performance and, visual arts which, were strongly influenced by the cultural and social context of the 1980s, when new cultural tendencies (e.g. “new wave” bands and the Albert Einstein Committee, which represented a new kind of Gesamtkunstwerk) had emerged. His oeuvre was not related to politics and ideology directly, but the act of reusing, or re-appropriating political symbols (for example in the case of the Red star dress, etc.) and his subversive performances always contained critical elements. Beginning in the middle of the 1980s, Király started to organize shows in Berlin (1984, 1988) and New York (1985), and he gained international fame. Even the magazine Stern called him as “Gautier of Eastern Europe”. Király might have got more recognition abroad, but he decided to remain in Hungary. Simultaneously, Király created four different thematic fashion shows at the Petőfi Hall (Baby’s Dreams 1985, Boy’s Dreams 1986, Animal’s Dreams 1987 and Király’s Dreams 1989). During the performances, underground bands like URH, Kontroll Csoport, and Sziámi played music, and the “unwearable” clothes were presented by ordinary people of Budapest. Additionally, beginning in the 1980s, Király extended his activities by creating dresses for theatre plays and movies.
It is no accident that his visionary oeuvre referred to the revolutionary Russian-Soviet constructivist avantgarde extensively. Contrary to the Western model of aesthetical development, in Hungary Russian-Soviet constructivism was rediscovered in a different time in a different manner. In this case, constructivism appeared as an old-new form of art in opposition to the postmodern tendencies recent at the time. Architects working as set designers escaping even from the official architectural canons (e.g. Gábor Bachmann, László Rajk) and the fashion designer Tamás Király (influenced by his collaboration with the two architects) used constructivism significantly as a cultural and aesthetical approach.
There are a variety of reasons why his oeuvre has been neglected, forgotten culturally, or ruined irrecoverably in the past few decades. First, due to his transgressive and ironical method, for him no completely finished artworks existed, Király constantly destroyed and reshaped his recent works. Secondly, he also had an obsession with using ephemeral or even “inappropriate” materials (e.g. tarpaper) to make clothes following a certain DIY aesthetics. That is one of the reasons why so many of his artworks disappeared or were damaged fatally or irrecoverably. He was also proud to have created unwearable dresses, and he did not want to sell any of his dresses during his lifetime. As a result, very few of his clothes got into private or public collections or institutions, where they might have been preserved.
Third, Király constantly tried to question the boundaries of fashion design, performance, and the visual arts, which were strongly influenced by the cultural and social context of the 1980s. Hence art and design history were unable to categorize and interpret his works, as they were hamstrung by their conservative and old-fashioned approach. There were some attempts to sell or donate the pieces of the collection to competent operators, the survival of the collection is still uncertain.
Despite the recently growing interest in his ouevre, Tamás Király had been strongly neglected in the past two decades as an artist. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that despite the neglect he has suffered, his oeuvre and figure were also used as a tool to represent contemporary and progressive Hungarian avantgarde culture abroad or even for foreign visitors (e.g. he was visited by Yoko Ono and Nat Finkelstein, the former photographer at Andy Warhol’s Factory).
Description of content
Tamás Király’s legacy exists as a private collection in poor condition at his former apartment. It is kept by his son, Iliász. The collection contains photographs, films, and a few dresses. The collection represents an important, unique counter-cultural creation. Furthermore, it is an important source for an understanding of a crucial counter-cultural attitude: the gesture of disappearance, ephemeral existence and fragments, and conscious reflection on absence.
- clothing: unknown quantity
- manuscripts (ego-documents, diaries, notes, letters, drafts, etc.): unknown quantity
Date of founding
Place of founding
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Creator(s) of content
Important events in the history of the collection
- all closed to the public
Author(s) of this page
- Bódi, Lóránt
Aktuális Levél (Budapest). "A New Art Stúdió (Király Tamás, Koppány Gizella, Kováts Nóra) élő kirakata." January 1984, 53.
György, Péter. "A múlandóság építészei - Filmgyári menedék." In Az elsüllyedt sziget. Budapest: Képzőművészeti Kiadó, 1992.
Kromschröder, Jan. "Folklor und strenge Linien: Die Kreationen des Tamás Király." Stern Magazin, March 29, 1990, 150-154.
Soós, Andrea, Muskovics, Gyula , interview by Bódi, Lóránt, December 07, 2016. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection