Translated from the Slovak and expanded for Where Is Your Toothbrush? by yours truly.


Rare is the visit to my home town Košice after a long period of time (two years this time) that reveals the very bottom of my country’s soul after only three days. Such luck struck on the third of July 2013.

Visegrad karma

The opening of Kunsthalle/Art Hall Košice in the old municipal pool received a ton of attention from the media, city officials, nonprofits connected to the European Capital of Culture project [1], artists, and art-hungry residents. Deservedly so: the contribution of the beautiful new cultural space that re-integrates a beautiful old sports-and-recreation building into the city’s life [2] is undeniable.

But light refracts under water.

I made it to the new Art Hall more than an hour after the official opening. At the door the bartender informed a disappointed visitor that all the wine was long gone. As were the VIP’s. I arrived after a five-minute walk from Tabačka Kulturfabrik, another multipurpose cultural complex, where I had seen an opening of a whole different kind.

An exhibition of Central/Eastern European political posters Visegrád Karma opened on the second floor of the dark, funky multifunctional space. The curator Krzysztof Ducki selected 60 posters from the archives of the region’s four countries (Poland, Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic/Slovakia, Hungary)—the oldest from the early 1980’s, the most recent from 2012—to document the political change of the the transition from state socialism to late capitalism.

The posters that impacted me the most [3]:

The famous illustration of the back of the head of an obese Soviet high-ranking military officer with the label “Tovarishchi Kanyec” (Comrades, the End), used by the Hungarian Democratic Forum, a political movement/party.

Visegrad karma

The first post-revolution Czech political party Civic Forum’s ‘promo’ poster depicting wall plaster peeling in the shape of Czechoslovakia.

Visegrad karma

A five-pointed red star piercing the heads of five black silhouettes in the announcement for the Slovak National Theater play, The Purge.

Csaba Paroczay, the Art Director of the exhibition’s organizer, Bakelit MultiArt Center in Budapest, was short on chatter because the collaboration partners from Poland didn’t make it to the opening. (He did take time to invite Lindsay and I to Bakelit when we’re there at the end of August.)

About 30 people showed up for the Visegrad Karma opening (Kunsthalle must have seen hundreds). Most guests were young; I could count over-35 year-olds on one hand. With the other hand I count the visitors’ average age as a positive from the cultural and historical education standpoint.

I speculated on the causes of low attendance. One could be the space: had Tabačka existed in the first half of the 1990’s when I was in high school, it would have been my favorite hangout spot. What’s more, Tabačka wasn’t a grand, highly visible investment, just a modest space doing its thing. Another reason could be promotion: I had learned of the event two hours earlier from 4 brief lines in the European Capital of Culture free publication, Tomorrow’s Newspaper. Nowhere else had I seen another mention of the event, before or after.

But, as they say, whoever came was the right people. Plus, attendance statistics and composition mattered less in and of themselves than what they conveyed.

Visegrad karma

In the brochure accompanying Visegrad Karma Aniko Katona concluded her essay by saying, [3]

“The posters of regime change are important not only because they influenced historical events. Human memory yearns for images: just as family histories become preserved in personal photographs, society needs images to preserve collective memories. These posters became imprinted deeply into the collective mind and helped define every generation that lived through these events. These pictures preserved in the collective memory construct the common identity: they shaped us, the people of Central Europe, to what we are today.”

Unlike the high, conceptual art at Kunsthalle, which left me cold, the posters impacted me both from the rational standpoint, since I was looking at the complicated recent history of the Central European space, and from the emotional standpoint, since I grew up during those revolutionary years. The contrast between the two openings also reminded me that without the events the posters visualized, criticized, and shaped, not only would we not have seen the end of the evil regime but also the creation of independent Slovakia, its accession to the European Union, and the money to renovate the Kunsthalle space. As I departed, one eye on the refreshments table where many glasses and bottles of wine stood untouched, it saddened me that along the pompous celebration of the bright future of art in the city, the past that had enabled it has been (un)officially forgotten.

Visegrad karma

Perhaps it isn’t too late, however. Visegrad Karma is at Tabačka Kulturfabrik until the end of July, in Kielce, Poland in August, and in Plzeň, Czech Republic in September. You can also find it online at


[1] Košice is this year’s European Capital of Culture, together with Marseille, France. I will dedicate a separate blog post to the proceedings.

[2] The 1952 municipal pool closed in 1992 due to structural problems. The European Commission funded the 7.5 million-euro renovation of the building linking water with a multipurpose exhibition and performance space. The first three exhibits include sculptures by Tony Cragg (Great Britain/Germany), photographs by Constantin Brancusi (Romania), and multimedia by Gyula Kosice (Argentina, born in Košice). Learn more about Kunsthalle/Art Hall Košice.

[3] The photos are from my iPhone, with corresponding quality. See higher-quality versions here.

[4] I took the liberty of editing the text for clarity.

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