Endre Tót (b. 1937 in Sümeg, Hungary) was a fellow of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program (BKP) in 1978. In the early 1960s he was of the first Hungarian painters to experiment with Art Informel; a short time later, he began creating collages in the style of Pop and Minimal art. In 1968 and 1969, Tót took part in two controversial exhibitions with the Iparterv Group, a collective of avant-garde artists who radically opposed Socialist Realism and were therefore frequently subjected to state censorship. In the early 1970s Tót abandoned painting once and for all and turned to Conceptual art, Stamp art, and Mail art. His early My Unpainted Canvases and Absent Works are among the first purely conceptual artworks from Eastern Europe; they embody the fundamental preoccupation with nothingness and emptiness that is essential to Tót’s art. Among the conceptual strategies he has pursued since the early 1970s are TOTalZEROS, Nothing/Zer0, Rain, Gladness, and Rainproof Ideas, which use linguistic symbols and typewriter typography as a creative means of reductive painting, as well as to formulate poetic and philosophical notions. For Tót, the symbol “0,” which can also be read as the letter “O”—the middle letter of his surname—has many philosophical, social, and political connotations. Tót was also a pioneer of Mail art, above all with his project Zero Post (1974); his correspondents included Marina Abramović, John Armleder, George Brecht, Dieter Roth, Daniel Spoerri, Ben Vautier, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Genesis P-Orridge, and Ken Friedmann (as well as Friedman’s dog).
When Tót received the offer of a BKP Award Grant in West Berlin, it was initially unclear whether he would be able to take up the invitation: having been refused by the Hungarian authorities several times, his application for an exit visa was only granted after Galerie René Block and Rainer Verlag in Berlin organized a petition, and international artists associated with the Artists-in-Berlin Program put pressure on the minister from the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party in June 1978, with the result that Tót was able to begin his period of residency in October. During his stay in Berlin, he performed the street action TOTalJOY (from his Gladness series) along Kurfürstendamm on March 27 and 28, 1979; the action was captured on video by the Artists-in-Berlin Program and presented in its space as a visual documentation during the Freie Berliner Kunstausstellung in April. In May 1979 Galerie René Block showed works from the Gladness series (1973–1979), and Edition Herta, Berlin, published ½ Dozen Berliner Gladness Postcards (1973–1978), a portfolio of six postcards featuring Tót’s portrait—apparently attached to the Berlin Wall—and short texts that mainly begin with the words “I am glad if…”. That same year, Tót was a video-screen participant in the legendary “Hotel Room Event” organized by Ben Vautier—also a fellow of the Artists-in-Berlin Program—and Mike Steiner at the Hotel Steiner.
Endre Tót took part in numerous Fluxus events. In 1999, his solo exhibition Who’s Afraid of Nothing? Absent Pictures was shown at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne.
Text: Eva Scharrer
Translation: Jacqueline Todd
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