Hungarian architect, sculptor, conceptual and performance artist, teacher, theorist and film maker. He came from a Jewish–Christian family, many of whom were killed during World War II. In 1947 he began training as a sculptor at the College of Fine Arts in Budapest, but he left and continued his studies in the studio of Dezső Birman Bokros (1889–1965), before training as an architect from 1947 to 1951 at the Technical University in Budapest. During the 1950s and early 1960s he worked as an architect and began experimenting with painting and graphic art, as well as writing poems and short stories. During this period he became acquainted with such artists as Dezső Korniss, László Latner and, most importantly, Béla Kondor and Sándor Altorjai (1933–79), with whom he began a lifelong friendship. In 1959 and 1963 he also enrolled at the Budapest College of Theatre and Film Arts but was advised to leave both times.
From 1962 Erdély lived with his family at Buda in a house that he later rebuilt and that was a venue for artistic events and a meeting-place for artists in the 1960s and later. These included such figures as Tamás Szentjóby (b 1944) and Gábor Atorjay (b 1944). Erdély became interested in many of the artistic developments of the time, such as ‘happenings’ and the work of the Fluxus group. He himself, however, felt a greater affinity with conceptual art and took part in the late 1960s and early 1970s in a number of avant-garde exhibitions with his conceptual ‘textual actions’ and series of photographs accompanied by texts. He also began to make films, although none of his films was shown officially in Hungary until the 1980s. The theoretical background to his films was his theory of montage, published in 1966, with its emphasis on repetition and change, its principle of ‘meaning negation’ and its admission of the role played by intuition and inspiration.
In 1975–6 he ran a series of ‘creative exercises’, which in 1978 led to the formation of the group known as Indigo (Interdiszciplináris Gondolkodás; Hung.: ‘interdisciplinary thought’). This was conceived as an experimental teaching studio, drawing on modern artistic processes, educational methods influenced by Eastern philosophical traditions and many other sources, and it provided an important forum for a new generation of Hungarian artists, such as Ildikó Enyedi (b 1955), András Böröcz (b 1956) and László Révész (b 1957). It was only in the 1980s, however, that Erdély achieved public recognition for his work, which encompassed both social and spiritual concerns and emphasized the underlying affinities between art and science. These thoughts were represented in his huge installation ‘Hadititok’ (‘Military Secret’), in the 1984 exhibition entitled 1984: Orwell und die Gegenwart in Vienna. ‘Hadititok’ was built from different symbolically interpreted materials (glass, tarpaulin, bitumen), on the surfaces of which the Múllet-Lyer diagram referred to the limited character of the human perception; a built-in digital unit displayed sentences referring to biblical secretiveness and prohibition as reinterpreted by Erdély for modern society.
- ‘Superstition as Folk Art’, New Hungarian Quarterly (1976), no. 64, pp. 219–21
- Erdély Miklós (exh. cat., Budapest, Óbuda Gal., 1986)
- L. Beke: ‘Die Alternative in der ost- und mitteleuropäischen Kunst der sechziger and siebziger Jahre. Ungarische Beispiele: Miklós Erdély und Tibor Hajas’, Dagegen: Verbotene Ostkunst, 1948–1989 (exh. cat., Vienna, Bundesmin. Unterricht & Kst, 1991), pp. 97–102, 154
- Miklós Erdély: Opere dagli anni ’50 al 1986 (exh. cat., Rome, Spicchi E., 1992)