The “greatest Hungarian sculptor of our time”: A Memo to Blanche Devereaux

You don’t derive much comfort from a musty expression like “let a smile be your umbrella” when you are walking around Óbuda on a wet and gloomy afternoon. It was pretty much wet and gloomy throughout our second stay in Budapest, and even the statues seemed to be putting up their defences against the elements. I was cheered nonetheless by Imre Varga’s “Women with Umbrellas” (pictured here); and when we walked around the gallery dedicated to the work of the greatest Hungarian sculptor of our time,” a scene from The Golden Girls came to my mind, which tends to operate that way.

In an episode originally aired on 19 December 1987 (about a year and a half before I first caught sight of the gals from whose exchanges I learned American English), Blanche, Rose, and Dorothy all agree to pose nude for a sculptor. A Hungarian sculptor, that is. Aside from the thrill of being immortalized in art, what is most on the minds of the three is that Laslo is a bachelor, and a virile specimen at that. They are all pretty much smitten with the self-assured man with the magnificent voice who, as played by Tony Jay, comes across like a cross between Monty Woolley (radio’s “Magnificent Montague”) and Mischa Auer (briefly known as “Mischa the Magnificent” on the air).

When the artist’s work is done, it remains to be seen whether he is interested in pursuing one of them:

Blanche. Laslo, before you make your choice, just let me say what a privilege it has been for me to come here and work with the man whom I consider to be the greatest Hungarian sculptor of our time.

Dorothy. Yes, and just let me say that if Blanche can name two other Hungarian sculptors of any time I shall eat that statue.

I’m getting close, Blanche, should you ever choose to “phone a friend” (even though, as you soon realized, Laslo is a “friend of Dorothy’s”). Imre Varga is a magician who can make sheet metal seem like sheer silk or imbue it with the weight of human suffering, who can make dead matter sway and sway us into believing that the dead matter. His work, which has withstood the political upheavals that relegated many of his contemporaries to the scrapheap (or the ghetto that is Statue Park), is a chronicle of a people and the individuals among them who influenced the course of its history (like St. Stephen, pictured above). Through his portraits in metal, Varga will make you look up names and never let you forget his own . . .

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