This book is the result of ten years of interviews between Judit Reigl and her gallerist, Janos Gat, who was also her friend and a specialist of her work. The story reads like a novel, with a heroine who survived two large crises and wars of the twentieth century, risked her life by crossing European borders, lived on very little for a time and watched with considerable humour the development of an art world that seemed to have little place for her.
Recognised and lauded by André Breton and Marcel Duchamp, a member for a time of the Surrealist movement, Judit Reigl (1923–2020) incessantly pursued a singular artistic path, breaking boundaries between abstraction and figuration by returning, at least in appearance, to figurative painting from 1972 to the moment that her work began to attract attention.
Reigl’s artistic path is testament to an unshakable freedom and profound personal engagement that saw her continuing to paint even when discouraged on all fronts. “A Hungarian? And a woman at that?” were the words of an American art collector in response to what represented a triple handicap in the 1970s: figuration, femininity and nationality.
Even if Reigl’s work, conceived through several series, integrated important innovations in art history and gave proof of a resilience that persisted through its passage from minimal to figurative modes, even if her relationship to the act of painting was as radical as any of her peers (from 1951, she abandoned the paintbrush in favour of her fingertips and homemade instruments), and despite the admiral efforts of a foundation dedicated to her work, her importance, like that of many other women artists, did not receive enough recognition.
Judit Reigl received the AWARE 2017 Outstanding Merit Prize, organised by AWARE: Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions, co-founded and directed by Camille Morineau. This Prize symbolises the much-needed recognition of these major women artists whose work and careers have all too often been either overlooked or rediscovered in the framework of partial retrospectives.