József Jakovits

Dec. 9, 2014 through Feb. 22, 2015

József Jakovits

The artist József Jakovits (1909-94) is little known even in his native Hungary, except in intellectual and artistic circles, where he is hailed as Hungary’s foremost Surrealist sculptor. In the Hungarian National Gallery he is labeled “Post-Surrealist.” Jakovits viewed himself as a Primitivist, declaring his main sources to be “cave painting, the tribal art of primitive peoples, and the archaic periods of the great religious cultures”—including Judaic lettering and mysticism. Jakovits is virtually unknown in the United States, despite having lived as a practicing artist in New York City between 1965 and 1987.

Jakovits left Hungary after the country’s powerful cultural czar, György Aczél, told him bluntly that his art could never be publicly accepted in Hungary but that he would make it possible for Jakovits to emigrate.[1] Jakovits returned to Hungary also at Aczél’s urging, after they encountered each other again at a Hungarian reception in New York City, and Aczél enticed him with the promise of an artist’s apartment with studio in Budapest. This is fate that reads like fiction. 

Several factors limited Jakovits’s reception during his decades in America, which he had hoped would deliver him recognition. He struggled with English. He shunned social interaction. He quoted Richard Huelsenbeck’s The Dada Drummer: “The artist must by necessity stand outside the social group.” Tidy and efficient, he lived ascetically, in poverty, in a 430-square-foot apartment in a public-housing complex on Water Street. To meet his modest needs of $175 per month—including his art supplies from Pearl Paint—he performed work provided by welfare three days every second week. He said a broad-hipped Jewish woman who worked for the city secured his survival package, which included being registered as a mentally challenged person eligible for aid. This surrogate status also inhibited him from seeking exhibitions and publicity. Despite his monasticism he had television—he watched, from the outside looking in. While America experienced its volatile 1960s, as 1968 came and went, Jakovits was absorbed in painting, having switched his main medium from sculpture. The chance encounter with the Hebrew primer in 1966 was a revelation to Jakovits. He turned from Surrealism to mysticism. He dedicated himself to absorbing and celebrating the esoteric knowledge of Kabala. For more than two decades, he rendered Hebrew letters and kabalistic motifs, employing the flat colors, hard edges, and stenciled designs of Pop Art but in service of the sacred rather than the popular. His meditational motifs did not strike a chord. His work was scarcely acknowledged.

About the Exhibit

Jakovits was an autodidact inspired by Surrealism and Primitivism. His sculpture resonated with primal sexuality and spirituality, blending genders, animal and human characteristics, and sacred and secular themes. This stance was inherently political in conservative and communist Hungary, and Jakovits's overtly anti-totalitarian work was even more intolerable in Hungary. Grasping an opportunity to emigrate to the United States in 1965, Jakovits settled in New York City in 1965.

Jakovits resettled in Budapest in 1987, and received some belated recognition. However, his work-and that of the European School in general-has still not received the attention it deserves. This exhibition, produced with the art foundation Alma on Dobbin, is the first comprehensive exhibition of Jakovits's work outside Hungary. It consists chiefly of works in the Müller-Keithly Collection, New York, together with loans from the Jakovits Estate, Budapest, and other private lenders in the United States and Hungary. The fully bilingual English-Hungarian book co-published to accompany the exhibition is the first in English devoted to Jakovits, and the first to bring together and illustrate in color the artist's sculpture and his two-dimensional works on paper and on canvas.

  • Ancestress
  • Jozsef Jakovits
  • Terracotta
  • 17.8" x 11.2"
  • 2014
  • Angyal / Angel
  • Jozsef Jakovits
  • Bronze
  • 44" x 18" x 10.5"
  • 2014
  • Birth of the Minotaur
  • Jozsef Jakovits
  • Bronze
  • 31.5" x 44.5"
  • 2014
  • Boy-Girl
  • Jozsef Jakovits
  • Wood
  • 42.6" x 15.5" x 3.6"
  • 2014
  • Cim Nelkul
  • Jozsef Jakovits
  • Wood
  • 150.5" x 46.4" x 2.5"
  • 2014
  • Clericalism (High Priest)
  • Jozsef Jakovits
  • Bolyamide on Wood
  • 48" x 36"
  • 2014
  • Cock-Fighter (Fighter I, Chimera)
  • Jozsef Jakovits
  • Metal (Aluminum)
  • 13" x 9"
  • 2014
  • Couple / Creation
  • Jozsef Jakovits
  • Acylic and Metal
  • 14.5" x 13"
  • 2014
  • Cubist Nude
  • Jozsef Jakovits
  • Bronze
  • 26.5" x 13.5" x 11.5"
  • 2014
  • Double Seals
  • Jozsef Jakovits
  • Ceramic
  • 33" x 21.2" x 30"
  • 2014
  • Untitled
  • Jozsef Jakovits
  • 2014
  • Untitled
  • Jozsef Jakovits
  • 2014
  • Untitled
  • Jozsef Jakovits
  • 2014
  • Untitled
  • Jozsef Jakovits
  • 2014
  • Untitled
  • Jozsef Jakovits
  • 2014