On The Brancusi Trail In The Romanian Towns Of Targu Jiu and Craiova

The Romanian born Constantin Brancusi was a leading sculptor of the 20th century and a pioneer of modern art. My first encounter with the great man was in Paris, the city where he lived for many years and where he met and became friends with many of the great artists, writers and poets of the 20th century such as Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Marcel Duchamp, Guillaume Apollinaire and Ezra Pound. His Parisian studio still stands today on the same site where the Pompidou Centre of Modern and Contemporary Art is located and he is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery along with other greats like Charles Baudelaire, Serge Gainsbourg and Jean Paul Satre.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA                                                               Constantin Brancusi

From the city of Timisoara, located in the west of Romania, I embarked on a bus ride lasting nearly six hours to reach the country town of Targu Jiu. I was the only tourist on the bus and most of the journey comprised of driving through rural and provincial Romania. The Romanian countryside is wild, raw and authentic. I notice this especially on the road approaching Targu Jiu. Watching all this scenery from the bus window I already develop a mental picture of the land Brancusi grew up in as a young boy. Brancusi came from very humble beginnings. He was born in 1876 in a small village called Hobita about 20 kilometres outside of Targu Jiu. Both his parents were poor traditional hard working mountain people. His development as an artist began in this rural part of the country where he would frequently carve objects from pieces of wood. Today one can visit the wooden house in Hobita where he grew up although it’s a replica of the original construction.

Targu Jiu is a town with several points of interest. Yet my principle reason for visiting was to see the large outdoor sculptures created by Brancusi in the 1930s as a homage to the Romanian soldiers who fought during the First World War. Beginning at the Constantin Brancusi Memorial Park by the Targu Jiu river is his work, The Table Of Silence. The work comprises of a circular table and twelve hour glass objects made of stone positioned in such a way to resemble a clock with each of the hour glass objects representing the numbers on a clock.

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The Table Of Silence 

Directly facing this work is a path leading towards another work by Brancusi entitled The Gate Of Kiss made of travertine marble. One each side of the two columns of the work is a circular emblem representing lips. This work is of the socialist realism style, which was the main genre of sculptures made during the time of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991.

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The Gate Of Kiss

From the park, I walk along Calea Eroilor or Heroes Street – named after the Romanians who fought during WW1 and to whom the sculptures are dedicated to, until I reach another park where the final and arguably most epic work of Brancusi’s Targu Jiu works is located. The Endless Column is an almost 30 metre tall sculpture consisting of 17 rhomboidal modules. It is an iconic work of outdoor sculpture and is occasionally cited as one of the greatest works of modern outdoor sculpture.  The work is a symbol of ‘the infinite’ and in the context of the Romanian soldiers who lost their lives in World War One, a tribute to their ‘infinite’ sacrifice. For me it is a very spiritual work. It goes beyond the concepts of time and space. It is timeless and eternal, defying any representations or labels of any specific period in time. The sculptor, art writer and Brancusi historian Sydnei Geist called the work the high point of modern art.

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The Endless Column

 

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By The Endless Column 

During the 1950s there were plans by the Communist government of Romania to destroy the column but thankfully those plans were never realised. In fact, after the fall of communism in the country, there was a lot of renewed interest in the column and plans were carried out to restore it after years of neglect.

Other sites that are worthy of attention in Targu Jiu include the city’s small art museum located at the top of the Brancusi Memorial park. When I visited I encountered several paintings and sculptures by local and well known Romanian artists. Some of the sculptures were created by lesser known contemporaries of Brancusi and there is one work in the museum created in collaboration with the great man himself. I particularly recommend the room containing a collection of beautiful religious icon paintings some dating back all the way to the 17th century.

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Targu Jiu art museum

A lesser known site in the town is the Iosif Keber Memorial House located in an architectural masterpiece of an old house featuring a collection of his paintings and an art library.

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Iosif Keber Memorial House

About 100km south of Targu Jiu is the town of Craiova. It was in this town where Brancusi attended the Craiova School of Arts and Crafts from 1894 until 1898 and produced some of his earliest sculptures here. The Craiova Art Museum is located in the Constantin Mihail Palace. It is an opulent building with an almost Versailles like interior, which was built between 1898 and 1907 by the French architect Paul Gottereau. The palace was named after Michael Constantine, who was a member of one Romania’s richest families.

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Craiova Art Museum 

The Craiova art museum contains a wealth of paintings by Romanian artists yet it is the room containing a collection of Brancusi works, which is my reason for visiting. One of the most important of these works is his sculpture from his series of sculptures entitled The Kiss, his take on Rodin’s work of the same name. After Brancusi first arrived in Paris in 1903, he spent some time in Rodin’s studio but left after two months stating, ‘Nothing can grow under big trees‘. Brancusi held the great master Rodin in high regard yet at the same time he didn’t want to be stuck in the past and in his shadow. One can be too enfolded and trapped in the realms of a great artist. Brancusi though was an innovator and a visionary, and in order to grow, challenge and change the face of something one cannot be for too long in the presence of a master. This was the same with the Venetian painter Tintoretto who only spent a very short amount of time in the studio of the master painter Titian. As brilliant as Titian was, Tintoretto was also, like Brancusi, a visionary artist, and found being in the shadow of a master artist for too long stifling. He wanted to break free and develop his own style.

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The original Kiss sculpture at the Craiova Art Museum 

The Kiss is a ground breaking work of modern art. What makes the sculpture in the Craiova art museum so special and unique is that it is the original sculpture Brancusi created, which would later manifest into a full series of sculptures of the same name. When you look at Rodin’s Kiss sculpture and then at Brancusi’s sculpture of the same name it is clear what Brancusi wanted to do. Rodin’s sculpture is a masterpiece of classical art, in the style of the greatest sculptures from the Classical Greek period. But Brancusi’s objective was to create something new. In his sculpture he breaks down Rodin’s sculpture to its most basic and essential essence. It’s almost like he’s on a mission to chisel something and remove all its components leaving behind just its most essential and primordial core – that which is eternal and exists beyond the straightjacket of physical structures. And this is the reason why it is of such importance in the history of modern art.

The rest of the Brancusi collection in this part of the museum is made up of miscellaneous works by him created from as early as 1894 at the age of 18 when he was studying at the Craiova Art School until 1913 when he was already an established artist living in Paris. The earliest of these works is a wooden chair he made whilst a student at the local Craiova Art School. He was clearly a precociously talented artist judging by the skill and details of the chair and the age he was when he made it. Furthermore, just before he enrolled at the school he created from scratch a violin. His technical skill could never be faulted yet what makes The Kiss such a ground-breaking work was in its re-definition of sculpture as an art form itself.

                                 Other Brancusi works in the Craiova Art Museum 

The sculpture he made of the Roman emperor Vitellius from 1898 during the first months of his time at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bucharest is a perfectly fine work in the classical tradition. His sculpture of a young boy he made in Paris in 1906 is an emotive, sensitive and skilful work with the influence of Rodin being rather strong. Both these works demonstrate tremendous skill and talent yet Brancusi was still finding his way. Where The Kiss stands out is in its originality and as a work of art with no connections to any great sculptors or art movements of the past. With this work Brancusi developed an art form that was not only entirely his own, but also a work which changed the face of sculpture during its time.

 

By Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved 

Are People Wrong About Snapchat?

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Snapchat has had a torrid year so far. If one were to look at the company purely within the paradigm of its financial fundamentals there is a lot to be concerned about. There is also the risk that the company runs out of money and ceases to be a going concern. One cannot rule out this likely outcome. It’s current share price certainly reflects the very bearish sentiment many have towards the company. At one point the share price recently went below $6 a share. When the company went public last year, the initial public offering price was at $17 a share. Back then the sentiment of the general public towards the company was different. There was such a frenzy around the IPO at the time that the price duly rocketed above $25 a share. Since the beginning of this year though the share price has been on a downward trajectory.

It has been the victim of a number of mishaps such as an unpopular app redesign, key influencers leaving the platform, and even, since quite recently, the number of total users slowly dropping. One of the most damaging things to happen to the company though was Instagram copying it’s key ‘Stories’ feature.

The Facebook Group is an enormous global digital media juggernaut consisting of the Facebook platform, Instagram and WhatsApp as its primary platforms. Snap is a mere minion by comparison. This is a true battle between David and Goliath. Snapchat owns just a sling and a stone whereas the Facebook Empire has Kalashnikovs, WOMDs and other state of the art weapons. On the face of it, Snap doesn’t stand a chance. Or does it?

One thing that does stand out about Snap is that it is designed and created in such a way to be the communication platform of the future. For ten years, smartphones have come to dominate our lives and they still do. But what is the next step? I am tempted to go in the direction of Smart Glasses and Augmented Reality. Google tested the waters with this earlier this decade with their Google Glass product, but it was too ahead of its time and people weren’t ready for it. The biggest misconception about Snapchat is that it is a social media company. It is not. It is a camera app.

Both Facebook and Instagram are designed in a way that is made for the smartphone. Of course people share photos and videos, but they also share written text and messages. The other social media platform Twitter, is purely text-based and relies on the keyboard on your smartphone. Snapchat, on the other hand, is made in a way that can bypass the keyboard and the smartphone. It’s Snapchat Spectacles product enables one to record videos completely bypassing the smartphone. It already has lenses that react to sounds yet earlier in August it launched lenses with speech recognition capabilities. Snapchat is often ridiculed in the media as a platform that is ‘frivolous’ (and Facebook isn’t?) and only used by fickle people. Yet when it comes to technological innovation, it is ahead of Facebook and with far less leverage at its disposal. It would be deliciously ironic if the people who are ridiculing Snapchat today begin to adopt it like everyone else in the event of a massive turnaround in the company’s fortunes. Consensus views can always radically change.

Snapchat may currently be down in the dumps on the surface, yet there is a lot going on behind the scenes that we are not privy to. You can write off Snapchat all you want today, but don’t be surprise in the event that you find yourself with a different point of view a few years from now.

 

By Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved

Visiting The 1989 Revolution Museum In Timisoara

The Romanian city of Timisoara located in the western part of the country close to the Hungarian and Serbian borders is a pleasant place to spend a few days. The centre of town is filled with a wealth of beautiful ornate architecture dating back to its Habsburg past. Some of those buildings are semi-dilapidated yet a lot of this beautiful architecture and much of the city is undergoing a large regeneration project in time for 2021; the year when Timisoara will be the official European City Of Culture.

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Piata Victoriei

Piata Victoriei is one of the highlights of the city. Its a beautiful long rectangular square with a wealth of ornate, diverse and unusual multi-coloured buildings and rows of pleasant restaurants, cafes and shops. It’s an ideal place to watch the world go by as they say. The most unmissable feature of this part of town is the prominent Metropolitan Cathedral; an imposing Byzantine-influenced orthodox cathedral constructed between 1936 and 1946.

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The prominent orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral

Directly facing the monastery on the other side of the road, back on the Piata Victoriei is a memorial to the revolution of December 1989 against the repressive Communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. It is this event in the country’s history that gives the plaza its name. This revolution, which began here in Timisoara, is a very important event in Romania’s history since it eventually led to the crumbling of this regime and the end of Communism in the country.

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Memorial on Piata Victoriei to the 1989 Revolution

The initial protests in the city took place on December 15th 1989 with a few hundred people protesting against the harassment of the Romanian born Hungarian pastor Laszlo Tokes by the Communist regime. Laszlo was a notable and outspoken figure representing Romania’s Hungarian community. For many years he was a target of the communist regime for his exposing of human rights abuses by the regime towards the Hungarian minority population of Romania.

In March 1989, Tokes was forced by the religious authorities of the time to move from Timisoara to another parish in a remote part of the country. Tokes didn’t budge. The authorities issued him with an eviction notice from his home in Timisoara stating that he had until December 15th 1989 to leave. It was on this date that members of his congregation protested his eviction on the streets of Timisoara. Eventually passers-by joined in and what originally began as a protest against the eviction of Tokes manifested into an even bigger protest against the repressive communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. Very quickly similar protests spread like wildfire across other Romanian cities including the capital, Bucharest. Despite Ceausescu’s efforts to supress the protests by ordering the military to fire bullets into the crowds, his efforts were in vain as he was up against the vast majority of the population of his country who wanted change and an end to his oppressive regime.

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By the 1989 Revolution Museum

The 1989 Revolution Museum is a permanent exhibition dedicated to these events. When I first entered the museum located in an old and crumbling building, I was escorted by an elderly man from the museum to a room with a TV screen. On the screen he played a 20 minute documentary featuring visual recordings of the events between the beginning of the revolution until the fall of the Ceausescu regime. It is a dazzling sight to see what looks like almost the entire population of Timisoara out in the city protesting.

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The city of Timisoara at the apex of the December 1989 revolution 

 

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Pictures of the Communist ruler Nicolae Ceausescu in the museum 

 

 

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A pre Revolution Ceausescu parade in Timisoara’s main square (today named Piata Victoriei)

Ceausescu had initially misjudged the potential magnitude of the protests in Timisoara. On 18th December he left Romania for a state visit to Iran putting his wife and subordinates in charge of trying to diffuse the protests in Timisoara. When he returned to Romania just a couple of days later the protests had become larger and more intense.  During a speech he gave in today’s Revolution Square in Bucharest on December 21st, some people in the crowd began to chant ‘Timisoara!’. Slowly more people joined in. Ceausescu, unable to suppress the chants, pledged to raise the national minimum wage but the crowd wasn’t having any of it. For the remainder of his speech he was constantly heckled until realising that he was powerless to engage the crowd, he left the stage and ran for cover. On December 22nd the protests had spread to all the major cities in Romania. Ceausescu and his wife embarked on an epic escape from the braying mob until they were captured by the army and tried on Christmas Day. After their capture they were duly executed by a firing squad.

The museum is full of ephemera related to the Revolution including photographs and newspaper articles as well as art works by contemporary Romanian artists related to this time period.  After watching the video I spend some time visiting all the rooms inside the museum and learning more about this period in Romania’s history.

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Photographs from the museum 

Visiting the museum is most definitely worth the visit if you ever happen to be in Timisoara. It is a raw and authentic experience regarding a very important time period in Romania’s history.

 

 

by Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved

 

SOURCES

http://20years.tol.org/2009/10/26/laszlo-tokes/

A Day Trip To Felcsút

The Hungarian village of Felcsút is located 50km outside of Budapest and a 1 hour bus ride from the capital. It isn’t featured in any guide books and besides, with the abundance of things that Hungary’s seductive capital has to offer, why would anyone want to sacrifice a day in some one horse village in the middle of nowhere? But Felcsút isn’t just any other village. It is where the current Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán grew up. Since he became prime minister in 2010, a lot of money has been pumped into this sleepy settlement, mainly in the shape of a football stadium and a 6km long railway line.

Orbán is a controversial figure both at home and abroad. Opinion in Hungary on him is intensely polarized where people either love him or hate him. The latter accuse him of being a dangerous demagogue and a threat to the country’s democracy and free speech. Even though Hungary is a member of the European Union he has been very critical of it and has often come to blows with Brussels for not abiding by the rules as a member country. One example is his refusal to take in more migrants during the 2015 Refugee Crisis. Instead he constructed a razor fence around parts of the country’s borders much to the ire of Brussels. His supporters though see Orbán as a no-nonsense leader who isn’t afraid to speak his mind regardless of the consequences and also as someone who isn’t a pushover and is willing to put their country first. He is viewed by some as Europe’s answer to Donald Trump.

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán 

From Nepligot bus station in Budapest, I board a knackered white bus destined for this village. As the bus leaves behind the final surrounding districts of the city we are in rural Hungary proper. Lots of open fields and not much else. Nobody on the bus or even at the ticket desk of the bus station in the capital spoke any English. Without the internet data on my phone and the Google Maps app, I would have most likely missed my destination and probably would have resorted to scrambling for a way to desperately return back to Budapest. Once out of Hungary’s cosmopolitan capital or any of the country’s major towns, the chances of finding someone who speaks English drops dramatically. For the record I don’t know a word of Hungarian. Its an impenetrable language which doesn’t stick easily to my poor little brain. I even find it a challenge to remember the word for ‘thank you’. This is not a country you would want to get arrested in.

I know we are approaching Felcsut the minute I see the blue dot on Google Maps edge closer to the name of the village on the digital map. We stop at a small roadside bus stop, but in my ignorance I assume this is not THE bus stop for my destination. The bus carries on and turns onto a road moving away from the location of the village on my map. Its going now at some speed and the blue dot on the map is moving away from Felcsut at an alarming rate. I have no choice but to interrupt the driver. I walk down the bus ailse and as I approach the driver I blurt out the name of my destination. He slams the brakes and the bus screeches to a halt. Thankfully I latch myself to a nearby railing to avoid being catapulted towards the driver’s window. With haste I grab my bag and jump out of the bus.

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Arriving in Felcsút 

As I walk closer to the village I see a sign indicating the infamous Pancho Arena football stadium being only a kilometre away. The stadium is big with a seating capacity of 3,500. That is more than double the population of the village itself which has a population of just 1,200. For this reason it is seen by many Hungarians as a sensitive subject often dismissing the stadium as an Orbán vanity project. Many argue that the money should have been allocated instead towards the healthcare or education system of the country and not a football stadium. Orbán is a football fanatic and often tries to watch as many important matches as he can in between his busy schedule. In fact it is not an uncommon sight to see him at some games at the local stadium during weekend matches.

When I approach the stadium it is empty with the next game scheduled until the weekend. Yet the entrance to the stadium is open and so I enter. In the enclosure of the stadium there are photographs, trophies and other assorted bits of football related memorabilia. As I walk into the seating area the most striking feature of the stadium is not the football pitch but the wooden beams around the stadium. They are truly a work of art and give the arena the air of a religious place of worship and not solely a place to watch football. The beams and general design of the stadium were taken from designs by the noted local Hungarian architect Imre Makovecz.

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Pancho Arena football stadium 

 

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The unique wooden beams of the stadium 

A long path by the stadium leads all the way to small railway station, Puskas Akademia, named after the local football team. This station is part of the 6km long Val-Valley railway line. This project is more controversial than the football stadium since it has been stated that 80% of the investment towards it came from EU funds. I am the only person on the platform. There is no ticket office at this station just a small wooden hut with a time table of the daily train times on the side of the hut. All the information is in Hungarian yet I soon make out via a combination of Google Translate and raw guesswork that the next train should arrive in half an hour.

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Puskas Akademia station stop as part of the Val-Valley 6km long light railway line

Twenty minutes later I am joined by two elderly ladies. I timidly ask them whether they speak English? To my amazement one of the ladies, Zsuzsi, speaks perfect English. She lived in London for one year in 1976 and reminisces fondly about her time in the city. A vintage style train soon approaches. When we board the train we are the only people in the carriage. I do wonder sometimes, unlike the football stadium, what really is the point of this railway line especially if so few people on average use it? Yet the hot potato aspect of this project aside, I am reminded of the countryside tourist railway train I once took last year in the breath-taking region of Mokra Gora in the neighbouring country of Serbia. That was a truly unforgettable memory.

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One of the trains

Once inside the deserted carriage we all pose for photos. There is also a stove-like heater inside. A lady conductor enters our carriage to issue our tickets. I soon learn that there are about four stops in total on this line. However since my time is limited I buy a ticket for just until the next stop. I stay on the train for 25 minutes as it slowly chugs until the next stop. During this time we pass through the wild autumnal fields of the surrounding countryside. It is a beautiful sight with a rich kaleidoscope of colours. These are the kind of fields Vincent Van Gogh would have painted in all their glory.

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Inside the train carriage with its own stove heater

 

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Yours truly inside the train

 

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The surrounding countryside

At the next stop, Felscut station, I disembark and say goodbye to the ladies. I have 40 minutes until the next bus to Budapest leaves from the northern end of the village. I briskly walk the few kilometres on the side of the main village road. Most of the places I pass along the way, save for the football stadium, are private residences and the odd church, school and grocery shop. Thankfully I make it to the bus stop on time. The bus arrives five minutes later to take me back to Nepligot bus station.

 

By Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved

Contemporary Art From The Uralic World At The Ludwig Museum In Budapest

The Ludwig Museum is one of Budapest’s primary cultural institutions. When I visited the museum during my time in Budapest, there were three different art exhibitions on display. Two of those were purely focused on contemporary art from the Uralic world. The language, Hungarian, is part of the Uralic family of languages.  The three primary languages from that family are Hungarian, Finnish and Estonian.

 

SALLA TYKKA : Short Titles

The first exhibition was a display of short films by the Finnish video artist Salla Tykka. Her films focus on the inner core of existence. The first of her short films I encounter, Giant, is set in the gym of a Romanian all girls school. Here the girls undergo strict, stultifying and repressed exercise routines with faultless precision; as if they are robots or algorithms and not human beings. Watching the film makes me nauseous. The gym is also like one great soulless and sterile modern day concentration camp. Its an intensely depressing video and I only watch a few minutes of it before moving on yet out of all Tykka’s short films, it is also one of her most memorable.

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Still from the short film Giant by the Finnish artist Salla Tykka

Another film by Tykka, Lasso, is set in suburban Finland. It features a young man in his home gyrating in a dynamic and primal way with a lasso. During this moment, a young girl outside watches him transfixed through the slits of the closed blinds. She develops strong feelings towards him, difficult to articulate in words. But when the ritual with the lasso ends, so do those feelings and she is brought back down to earth. The film beautifully encapsulates this moment so many of us experience yet struggle to verbally convey.

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Still from the short film Lasso by the Finnish artist Salla Tykka

My Hate Is Useless is an early short film by Salla Tykka from 1996 documenting her struggle with anorexia. It is a raw and visceral film further documenting the pain and suffering she experiences. At one intervals she violently screams in Finnish ‘I hate myself’. Elsewhere in the film we see various bits of paraphernalia such as the medication she is taking.

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Still from the short film My Hate Is Useless by the Finnish artist Salla Tykka

 

RELATED BY SISTER LANGUAGES : Estonian-Hungarian Contemporary Art Exhibition

The second exhibition in another part of the museum is an exhibition of Estonian and Hungarian contemporary art curated by Krisztina Szipocs, the chief curator of the museum.

The first works are encounter are a small series of canvases by the Estonian artist Kaido Ole. Yet close by the canvases are two large painted mural like installations by the same artist depicting both the beginning and end of Estonia. The installation showing the beginning theme contains a sepia image of a coastline and the sea encased within a square sequence of different hues of blue. The end theme of the installation is more abstract featuring fading brown hues and the letters ‘Eeeeehhhh’ in the middle. It is difficult enough to envisage when the beginning may have been even if one where to use such primordial elements such as the sea and the colour blue. The end however is unwritten.

 

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Kaido Ole : The Beginning Of Estonia (2016/18)

 

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Kaido Ole : The End Of Estonia (2016)

Close by, a video by the Estonian artist Tanja Muravskaja, Three Sisters, featuring two girls who are both cousins reflecting on the war in Ukraine from their own personal experiences. One of the girls in the video lives in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and the other in the small Russian town of Belgorad, located 40kms from the Ukrainian border. The two videos play simultaneously as the girls talk at the same time. What is immediately clear is that both have very different views and experiences. From what I can decipher the girl from Belgorad comes across as if she got the rougher end of the deal. You can just see it in her stern facial expressions never mind what she is saying. The brief blurb states she is 27. In body maybe, but spiritually she has the weight of a babushka at the fag end of her seventh decade. The girl from Kiev, on the other hand, appears more open and lighter in spirit without any of the heaviness of her cousin from Belgorad. I’ve never been to Belgorad (yet I’ve been to the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv just down the road), but I can’t imagine it’s a place bursting with outliers. The third sister is the artist herself who acts as the mediator; the sister who attempts to heal the rift. Her invisible role is the trickiest.

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Tanja Muravskaja : Three Sisters (2015)

The Hungarian artist Hajnal Nemeth has a video work entitled Crash – Passive Interview (2011) an experimental operatic video in 12 acts. I witness two acts of this video. The first features a clip in a BMW factory featuring two men in workers clothes in a kind of comic operatic dialogue, whilst the second shows one of the two men again this time dressed like some playboy from Milan in an open top white BMW in another operatic dialogue with a woman. The dialogues are police reports made after a series of non fatal car crashes. How something so ordinarily prosaic, anxiety ridden and traumatic is turned into some kind of absurd Eurotrash Aldi like visual opera has me in fits of laughter. Its a tragic-comedy masterpiece and one of the highlights of the show.

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Hajnal Nemeth : Crash – Passive Interview (2011) – still one

 

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Hajnal Nemeth : Crash – Passive Interview (2011) – still two

The Estonian art duo Johnson and Johnson, who’s name is taken from the global big pharma behemoth of the same name, has a work in the form of an illustrative chart on display entitled Top 5 State Employees. I can’t read a word of any Uralic language but visually the chart metaphorically echoes how this world at large defines ‘progress’ or ‘success’. What today’s measure of success of progress may be won’t be the same 100 years from now. What does it matter? What does it mean? Employees work for someone else and do what they are told and do their best to please to be rewarded. They have no skin in the game despite their best and most conscientious efforts. On the other hand, the Steve Jobs and Elon Musks of this world would make the Bottom 5 State Employees. They are too disruptive and visionary.

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Johnson and Johnson : Top 5 State Employees (2009/18)

 

A Selection From The Museum’s Permanent Collection Of Hungarian Contemporary Art 

The final exhibition in the museum featured a selection from the museum’s permanent collection. The work on display was global with works by big names such as Picasso, Andy Warhol, Chuck Close and Georg Basalitz. However, with the limited time I had left in the museum before the departure of my train to the Hungarian town of Szeged later in the day, I purposefully decided to focus on works by Hungarian artists in the collection. Below I am featuring some these…

 

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Emese Benczur : Not All Is Gold That Glitters (2016)

 

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Laszlo Lakner : Danae (1968)

 

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Laszlo Haris: Confrontation-Action: Double Portrait (1973-2012)

 

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Gabor Koos : Budapest Diary XIII (2015)

 

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Peter Turk: Treadmill I-II (1975-81)

 

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Peter Gemes : Hourglass (1995)

 

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Zsuzsi Ujj : With Ocsi (1988)

 

 

By Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved 

Could Gold And Silver Bullion Be The Best Place To Invest Your Money For The Next Few Years?

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This is not going to be an easy article to write. Almost two years ago I wrote a similar article focusing on why investing in gold could be a smart move. This was around the time of Donald Trump’s surprise US presidential victory. Like the result of the UK Referendum to remain or leave the European Union, it was a classic black swan event, which very few foresaw. Around that time the conventional wisdom was that the world was going to go to hell in a handcart and that gold or anything seen with ‘defensive’ qualities was the place to invest your money. Gold in fact did not do much after Trump’s surprise win and actually went down in value. By the end of 2016 gold was just trading at less then $1200 an ounce. As of today gold is trading at $1232 an ounce.

Many analysts and others have been mystified by the lack of movement in the gold price over the last two years when one takes into account much of the geo-political situation and volatility engulfing the world. During that time period the biggest winners have been cryptocurrencies. 2017 was the year when Bitcoin and interest in other cryptocurrencies exploded. I mentioned Bitcoin briefly in my article from two years ago yet my understanding of the currency was limited. From January 2017 until the end of that year, the price of Bitcoin went mad shooting from $1000 a coin to almost $20,000 by December of that year. I remember being in a café in Amsterdam in June 2017 investigating Bitcoin further. Around that time the price was $2500 a coin. It had already more than tripled in value since the time I wrote my last article on gold around the start of November 2016. Even at that time I thought the price was overvalued and I was sceptical, especially since a new kind of herd mentality was manifesting. By that time interest in other cryptocurrencies was also taking hold. Ethereum, for many months just the preserve of hardcore crypto-heads and early adopters, was also exploding in value. It was my sister who first made me aware of Ethereum back in April 2017. Around that time the price was $50 a coin. At the start of the year the price was only $10 so it had an even bigger rise than Bitcoin. Yet two months later at the café in Amsterdam I was flabbergasted to witness the price shoot up even further to almost $400 a coin. Litecoin, the silver to Bitcoin’s gold, only around $4 a coin at the start of 2017, was trading at $30 a coin in June 2017. When the first surge of mainstream interest hit Bitcoin towards the end of 2013, Litecoin was by far the second most popular cryptocurrency. But since that first spike of interest, Litecoin (and Bitcoin) crashed and was in the doldrums for over three years before the next spike in 2017.

Since the start of 2018, the bubble burst for crypto and many cryptocurrencies lost a lot of their value. Interest still remains high and compared to the others, Bitcoin has held its value the best trading around the $6,500 mark over the last couple of months. You may be thinking why am I mentioning cryptocurrencies when the focus of this article is supposed to be on gold and silver? It is because there are some who think that certain cryptocurrencies take away the monopoly that precious metals have traditionally always had as a so-called ‘store of value’. It has been said that all the gold in the world amounts to the capacity of just three Olympic size swimming pools. It is scarce. Yet some argue that Bitcoin (and also Litecoin) is also a store of value since it has a supply cap of just 21 million coins. Two of the biggest investors in Bitcoin, the Winklevoss twins (also known for their association with Facebook), have gone as far as saying that Bitcoin will replace gold as a traditional store of value and that in the future, the scarcity of gold will be eroded by asteroid mining. It is true that Bitcoin has certain advantages gold doesn’t have. If you own lots of physical gold or silver you may have to store it in a vault and there will be storage charges. Moving it around with ease may also prove tricky. There is none of that with Bitcoin since it is digital and can also be used for swift payments. But that can also be its undoing; the fact that it is digital. In some countries such as Bolivia, it is illegal to trade Bitcoin or to use it as a payment method. At the end of the day, global governments can very easily outlaw it. Even if you had lots of Bitcoin in cold storage on an external hardrive in your bedroom it would be useless if that happened. That doesn’t mean to say I am against Bitcoin and crypto. I kind of have a secret admiration for it as, despite its volatility, it has enabled many ordinary citizens in some countries like Venezuela, which has been devastated by hyperinflation, to protect their hard earned savings from being further decimated in value. It isn’t always easy to acquire precious metals or even hard fiat currency for ordinary citizens in those parts of the world, so crypto can fill that gap in its accessibility.

I cannot predict the future of Bitcoin or where it and other cryptocurrencies may be heading. One of my biggest concerns regarding Bitcoin is that it is still far from being widely adopted and the people that own it are only doing so for speculative purposes. What’s more, I can only think of one place where I used Bitcoin and Litecoin to purchase something and that was at a Bitcoin café in Prague last year. Then again, more fool me if cryto goes an another epic bull run reaching dazzling new heights.

The reason why I like gold and silver is because neither are really in vogue at the moment. They are not as sexy or hot as crypto and I like the fact that the prices haven’t moved much and are still depressed compared with the new heights they both reached during the early part of this decade. Yet gold and silver can be frustrating assets to hold. If you go on YouTube there are no shortage of ‘gurus’ forecasting how gold will go to $10,000 an ounce and silver $1,000 an ounce. There is a lot of cynicism regarding gold and silver. Some argue that all those so called experts have been saying that gold will go to the moon for many years and it just hasn’t happened. Gold and silver haven’t moved much since the last spike around 2011-12 and so many gold and silver holders are understandably experiencing a heavy dose of fatigue and impatience.

Gold and silver prices are very difficult to predict and can sometimes move strongly for no rational reason at all. Traditional factors such as inflation, political instability, low interest rates, a weakening US dollar or a global stock market crash are no guarantee that a rise in the price of gold or silver will follow. Yet one thing is as clear as day; global debt levels are at an all time high. Not just in the developed world but also in the developing world especially in China. Most global stock markets have also been on a long bull run since 2009, yet this month we have witnessed the first signs of this bull market being derailed. In the process the price of gold began to rise, albeit very modestly. I would like to think that now the fortunes of gold and silver are finally about to change and I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point over the next few years, gold and silver prices started to go on a dazzling bull run similar to the one in the crypto space last year. If this happens sentiment towards these precious metals will change with a lot of ordinary investors wanting in to avoid FOMO (fear of missing out) syndrome thus enabling the price to rise higher. The beauty of the insane crypto bull run last year was that very few people saw it coming. If you read most of the comments on YouTube videos dated before 2017 relating to Bitcoin, most are negative and completely write off Bitcoin. A lot of that sentiment has changed now.

Generally, I prefer gold and silver bullion to owning shares in gold and silver mining companies. Yet on the other hand, just a modest rise in the price of gold and silver can cause an even bigger rise in the share price of gold and silver mining companies. What’s more, some of these companies also pay a dividend. But then you are also exposed to things like political risk if the mines are located in politically unstable parts of the world. Or company mismanagement etc. Owning gold and silver bullion protects you from these risks.

One site I like as a UK resident is called Bullion Vault. It enables one to invest in gold and silver bullion with no minimum limit. You can invest in just £10 worth of gold (which at current prices means owning less than a gram). And you can also choose the location of your vault in cities like London, Zurich, New York, Singapore etc. There are storage costs yet the storage costs are greater for silver than for gold. You do not own your metal physically in your hands (although there are bars you can purchase), but rest assured that the metal you purchase is yours safely in a vault and you would still own it even in the unlikely event that Bullion Vault itself went bust.

You can of course purchase gold and silver bars and coins, yet its your responsibility where you decide to store them. The Birmingham based BullionByPost is the largest online bullion dealer and a good contact to have.

 

Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved

 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article are mine and shouldn’t be taken as gospel. It is always important to do your own research before making investment decisions. 

 

Image: mining.com

 

 

The Pimped Up Bar Mleczny

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Pizza King Express is maybe the best place to eat in Budapest. I will probably get shot down in flames for saying this. At the ‘traditional’ restaurants serving Hungarian cuisine you will likely hear more English than Hungarian and will pay more money. You may also encounter surely staff if the place is popular. But not here. The staff here are a bunch of jokers and the food is ridiculously cheap even with a lousy pound sterling. A slice of pizza is 200 Forints (less than 60p). A tiramisu (enough for two) – yes, you better believe it – is 300 Forints (a little north of 80p).

During Communist times in many Eastern European countries you had these places called bar mlecznys, which in Polish literally translates to ‘milk bars’ – dirt cheap restaurants serving pretty basic food, but perfectly good. They used to be very popular with students or anyone without much money. Most of these places are a thing of the past now. There are a few still kicking around. For me Pizza King Express represents a new kind of ‘pimped up’ bar mleczny. That is, it may not be as threadbare as a traditional bar mleczny. Maybe I am stretching it using the words ‘pimped up’. But you get my drift. It has the same prices as the traditional bar mlecznys of yore filled by the same type of people who used to visit the originals. The only difference is that the menu is more global. Dare I say more ‘Westernised’. You can get pizza, kebabs, baklava (delicious sweat cake), tiramisu and rice pudding and all for just a few coins. Its a fraction of the price of Pizza Hut, which is next door, and a better and more delicious experience.

Hungary is not a rich country and wages are feeble. Budapest can be an expensive city if you are a local in menial employment. For that reason places like Pizza King Express are a godsend for locals. Its funny that most congregate here for a slice of cheap pizza and less at the ‘traditional’ Hungarian establishments no matter how good or tasty the food may be at those places.

The original bar mzlecznys were not only a product of Communism. They were a feature of when that part of the world was a much less connected place and people had limited access to information. In today’s post-communist globalised world with this tool called the internet, that has all changed. Younger generations from former communist countries are more aware, savvy and knowledgeable about the world, other cultures and how other people around the world live and their tastes. Pizza King Express caters for this younger generation as well as others who don’t want to spend too much money. In a paradoxical way, it is more ‘authentic’ to eat here than at the traditional restaurants, which promote themselves as ‘authentic’. It may be a pedantic and trivial observation, but there is a kernel of truth to it.

 

By Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved