Photo : Miroslav Tichý: « Sans titre », Courtesy Fondation Tichý Ocean, Zürich, Suisse © Centre Pompidou, Direction de la communication - Conception graphique : Ch. Beneyton, 2008
25 JUNE - 22 SEPTEMBER 2008
MIROSLAV TICHÝ 25 JUNE-22 SEPTEMBER 2008 MUSÉE, LEVEL 4
Direction de la communication 75191 Paris cedex 04
director of communications Laurent Glépin
1. PRESS RELEASE
2. PLAN OF THE EXHIBITION
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Direction de la communication 75191 Paris cedex 04 director of communications Laurent Glépin press relations manager Isabelle Danto telephone 00 33 (0)1 44 78 42 00
PRESS RELEASE MIROSLAV TICHÝ 25 JUNE-22 SEPTEMBER 08 GALERIE D’ART GRAPHIQUE, LEVEL 4
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The Centre Pompidou is to present the first ever French exhibition devoted to the photographic work of the Czech artist Miroslav Tichy, a singular figure now more than 80 years old. His timeless and unclassifiable work, first introduced to the wider public
at the Seville Biennale by curator Harald Szeemann, reveals a unique, marginal and
somewhat monomaniacal talent.
00 33 (0)1 44 78 40 69 fax 00 33 (0)1 44 78 13 02
The exhibition brings together a number of cameras and some hundred photographs,
mostly from the Foundation Tichy-Ocean, as well as works from the collection of the
Centre Pompidou. It is accompanied by a catalogue published by the Éditions du Centre Untitled, n.d. Gelatine-silver print, 18.1 x 13 cm Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean, Zurich (Switzerland)
Pompidou, the first work on Miroslav Tichy to be published in French.
Born in Moravia in 1926, the only child of a tailor, Miroslav Tichy trained at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague in the years immediately following the Second World War. Having embarked on a career as a painter, influenced by Picasso, Matisse and the German Expressionists, after the Communist takeover of power in 1948 he turned his back on the official art world. Returning to Kyjov, the town of his birth, he abandoned painting and in the mid-Fifties took up photography, building his own cameras from shoe-boxes, tin cans, recycled glass and other waste materials. For more than thirty years â€“ that is, until the late 1980s â€“ he lived a life of personal and cultural isolation, but took dozens of photographs every day, his great subject being the women of the town. His deliberately marginal and fiercely nonconformist way of life, so little in accord with the ideology of the day, led to repeated run-ins with the authorities, leading to several periods of confinement in psychiatric institutions in the Sixties and Seventies, and to his losing his studio in 1972. His images, shot instinctively or carelessly on his handmade cameras with their makeshift optics, offer an extraordinary vision of a fantastical, eroticised reality, half real, half dream. Women at the swimming-pool, women in the street, women indoors, women on the TV screen: these are his single, obsessional subject. Enlarged and printed on his own improvised equipment, the photographs were then often retouched before being mounted and framed using such materials as old newspaper and cardboard before, sometimes, being put away and forgotten for years. Over- or under-exposed, scratched, blurred, torn, and spotted, they nonetheless reveal an uncategorizable artist, whose methods recall those of the amateur or the naivety of outsider art, but whose images are strongly marked by influences from the classical pictorial tradition. With its endless return to the same subject and the volume and regularity of its production, his work also has affinities with many procedures of the contemporary art of the same period.
PUBLICATION Catalogue Éditions du Centre Pompidou sewn p/b format: 20 x 24 cm 176 pages price: 29.90 euros The catalogue presents some hundred photographs by Miroslav Tichy and a documentary portfolio (portraits of the artist and photographs of his cameras), as well as essays by Quentin Bajac, Clément Chéroux, Marc Lenot and Roman Buxbaum. Exhibition organised with the support of the Foundation Tichy-Ocean
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PLAN OF THE EXHIBITION
LAYOUT OF THE EXHIBITION At the entrance to the exhibition is a display of photographic equipment produced and used by Miroslav Tichy ¬– cameras, pinholes, lenses and boxes for rolls of film – giving an overview of his highly distinctive approach to photographic technology. The display of the photographic works proper is divided into five sections focusing on different aspects of Tichy’s production: the strong pictorial influence visible in some (figures / studies), the relationship to the model (faces / portraits), the rare still-lifes and landscapes (objects / landscapes), the distance from the subject, from extreme close-up to distant views (near / far), and finally, the relationship of figuration and de-figuration (appearances / disappearances). The whole moves from the most classical images, influenced by pictorial tradition, to the less legible, characterized by chance and the accidents of photographic technique. Each section is accompanied by quotations from the artist. At the centre of the exhibition is projected a film about Tichy by Roman Buxbaum.
PUBLICATION Catalogue Éditions du Centre Pompidou Sewn paperback Format: 20 x 24 176 pages ¤ 29.90 The catalogue presents some hundred photographs by Miroslav Tichy and a documentary portfolio (portraits of the artist and photographs of his cameras), together with essays by Quentin Bajac, Clément Chéroux, Marc Lenot and Roman Buxbaum. “I am […] the pioneer of chaos, for nothing is born except from chaos.” Between the early 1960s and the mid 1990s, in Communist Czechoslovakia and in self-imposed artistic isolation, Miroslav Tichy created a body of work obsessively concerned with the female figure, reinventing art photography from scratch. His images, shot instinctively or carelessly on his handmade cameras with their makeshift optics, offer an extraordinary vision of a fantastical, eroticised reality, half real, half dream, revealing an uncategorizable artist strongly influenced by the classical pictorial tradition whose methods nonetheless recall those of the amateur, or the naivety of outsider art. Exhibited for the first time in 2004, Miroslav Tichy’s photographs, timeless and unclassifiable, stand witness to a unique talent. This catalogue is the first work on the artist to be published in the French language.
TEXTES DU CATALOGUE
DISCOVERIES OF MIROSLAV TICHY, 1989-2008 Quentin Bajac Belated as it was, recognition came quickly. Yet in 1989, when Roman Buxbaum succeeded in having Tichy’s photographs published for the first time, in a special number of the German magazine Kunstforum1 devoted to Art Brut and Outsider Art, they had attracted but little attention. And so it remained for more than fifteen years. It was only in the spring of 2004, at the Seville Biennale, that Tichy’s work was again placed before the public, thanks to Swiss curator Harold Szeemann. The photographer was then 78 years of age. The following year, Kunsthaus Zurich organised the first monographic museum exhibition of his work.2 Simultaneously, at the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles, he was awarded the “Découvertes” prize, awarded to an artist “whose work has recently been discovered, or deserves such discovery3.” Shown in the Czech Republic in 2006, his images attracted the interest of several major figures in contemporary art, who in collaboration with the newly established Foundation Tichy Ocean organised an exchange of works through the “Tichy for Artists / Artists for Tichy” project. At the same time, photographs of Tichy’s were acquired by a number of major European and American museums, 4 attracting the interest of several galleries of contemporary art. And between 2005 and 2008, not less than six books or exhibition catalogues were exclusively devoted to his work.5 That it was Harald Szeemann himself, a few months before his death, who had instigated the Seville exhibition, would appear, in retrospect, to have been a determining factor in this speedy recognition. His authority – his aura, one is tempted to say – was very important in focusing the art world’s attention of Tichy’s work. For Szeemann, Tichy’s work and character appealed to a long-standing interest in Art Brut6 and Primitivism, and an equally long-standing concern for the notion of “anti-art.” Echoing the solitary Romantics of contemporary art, Tichy’s work and career – if it may be called that – stand at the intersection of a number of ideas close to Szeemann’s heart, concerning the definition of art, the nature of the artistic act, and inner necessity as the driver of creativity. Had not Szeeman, only a few years earlier, promoted the work of another very unusual figure, at the margin of contemporary art? This was the Swiss photographer Arnold Odermatt7, a retired police officer and another representative of an art that only flourishes where it is least expected, whom Szeemann showed at the 49th Venice Biennale, the first public presentation of a body of work begun in the 1960s. The very difficulty of locating Tichy’s work on the map of contemporary art was for Szeeman the main argument for his importance, claiming as he did that “the inner need to create will always find its way.” Thus briskly evoking an Expressionist conception of the creative act as drive, he emphasized in particular in Tichy’s work “a dimension that no category enables us to explain, understand or even describe.” Not even – especially not – that of the “outsider”. For the only description that he expressly contested was precisely that which had until then been customarily applied to Tichy, that of the marginal, naive artist. “Miroslav Tichy is not a naive artist,” he declared unambiguously, then to remark elsewhere: “It’s naive at first sight, and then reveals itself to be more complex8.” In refusing to assign a reductive and normative label that would exclude Tichy from the broader field of contemporary creation (not to speak of art), Szeemann, who since the 1960s had endeavoured to break down the boundaries of art, showed himself true to his engagement. Before Szeemann, Tichy’s work had essentially been thought of in terms of Art Brut or of Primitivism. Though it highlighted Tichy’s singularity within the world of Outsider Art, Roman Buxbaum’s article in Kunstforum – entitled “An Outsider among the Outsiders9” and one in a series of portraits of practitioners of Art Brut and Outsider Art – clearly accords with this approach. It is significant in this respect that the first well-known artist to have shown an interest in Tichy’s work, discovered through Kunstforum back in the early 1990s, should have been Arnulf Rainer. With his collection of Art Brut, for which he acquired a number of Tichy photographs in the 1990s, Rainer defends a concept of artistic creativity “based primarily on the idea of a total devotion to the demands of the expressive act, conceived as both psychological and psychic”.10 And if the notion of Art Brut, narrowly defined by Dubuffet and then Thévoz in the 1940s and ’50s as the “distinctive expression of the psyche unfettered by any cultural conditioning”11 could evidently not be applied to Tichy (being strictly applicable to a few, very rare, psychiatric cases), one might be tempted to associate it with certain more flexible conceptions, such as that of “New Invention,” later coined by Dubuffet to designate works in his collection “half-way,” as it were, between Art Brut and the mainstream, “works which, though they might not be marked by the same, radical, distance as Art Brut, are nonetheless sufficiently independent of the Fine Arts system as to constitute a challenge to the cultural institutions”.12 Close to the idea of “New Invention” is that of Outsider Art, developed by Roger Cardinal in the early 1970s, which seemed to early commentators to offer a more appropriate definition of Tichy’s work: extremely broad, it takes account of various factors (such as illness, criminality, cultural identity or religious conviction) that tend to the exclusion or marginalization of an art that does not accord with the habitual schemata of art history. An art which presents itself above all as a reaction to the dominant cultural norms and whose characteristic feature is the obsessional character of the subjects treated. Rejecting the political system and values of Communist Czechoslovakia, treated as a pariah by the established authorities, deliberately
withdrawing from society and repeatedly photographing – in highly unorthodox fashion – the women of his home town of Kyjov, Tichy would certainly seem to satisfy the criteria for Outsider Art. Even more so if one includes among them the role of a traumatic experience as a trigger for artistic production – for in this respect Tichy’s eviction from his studio in 1972 might well be considered as the event that provoked his increasingly complete absorption in the photography of public space, the street now becoming his studio – the unorthodox technique (“Stone Age” photography, in Tichy’s words) and the self-taught nature of the practice (the painter Tichy owing his photographic training to no-one else at all). In 2004, Roger Cardinal himself, in the catalogue of one of the rare exhibitions devoted to Outsider photography,13 published more or less at the time of the Seville exhibition, treated Tichy as one of the “main representatives of [the trend], in that photography is his medium of predilection.” Tempting, and in part justified, this categorization was based only on that single article published in Kunstforum fifteen years earlier. In the absence of sufficient biographical knowledge, Cardinal was ignorant of Tichy’s artistic training and culture (he having been a painter and draughtsman for 40 years before embarking on photography) and of a fragile but nonetheless real degree of social integration. In rejecting such a taxonomy in the name of the enigmatic nature of creation, Szeeman complicated the issue. At the same time, the research being carried out by Roman Buxbaum and Tobia Bezzola, to be published later in the catalogue of the Zurich exhibition, cast a very different light on both the artist and his work: drawing on interviews with Tichy, they described a man who, though culturally marginalized, maintained relationships with local artists of his own generation (Vladimir Visek, Cenek Stake, Vladimir Vasicek, Oldrich Herman) and who led a life to some extent accepted by his neighbours although disapproved of by the authorities. A number of Tichy’s photographs, far from being the fruit of a stranger’s gaze, evidence a complicity between model and photographer. Photographs were given to friends and neighbours, evidence of socialization, a sharing of the process of symbolization. Tobia Bezzola for her part took the full measure of the complexity of Tichy’s photographic work in attempting, for the first time, to reinscribe him in an artistic and cultural context (and dialogue), and in doing so liberating him from the cliché of the marginalized genius. Filling in and complexifying the picture, she made it even more difficult to locate Tichy’s images. In anchoring his photographic work in his academic training and tracing the classical references, and insisting, despite his isolation as an individual, on certain affinities with contemporary art, the Zurich catalogue re-established the artist as a true “insider,” an artistic figure whose singularity should not blind us to his centrality. This is the line followed in the main by Roman Buxbaum and Adi Hoesle in their work for the Foundation Tichy Ocean, established in 2005 on the basis of Buxbaum’s collection of Tichy’s work. In making possible and promoting an exchange of work between Tichy and contemporary artists and exhibiting in 2006 and 2007 the group of works thus assembled, the “Tichy for Artists / Artists for Tichy” project14 further emphasized Tichy’s place in the world of contemporary art and underlined his specifically contemporary relevance. Now presented within a collection representing several generations of artists, from Rainer, Anna and Bernhard Blume, Thomas Ruff and Fischli & Weiss to Jonathan Meese and Katharina Grosse, Tichy’s work today appears to be entirely legitimated, shifted from outside to inside, from margin to centre. Is this then the end to Tichy as outsider? No, not really. Not least because Tichy himself resists the shift, proclaiming even today his marginality and rejecting any acculturation of his work: in this attitude, this refusal to occupy a place in the dominant culture, Cardinal rightly sees one of the distinctive features of the outsider artist. Tichy is in fact the first to reject this rereading of his work, consistently maintaining the attitude of withdrawal that he has displayed since the 1960s: his clear lack of interest in the symbols of recognition being equalled only by the keen interest of those who would award them. His manner of life and mode of dress remain unchanged. Speaking of himself in the interviews carried out by Buxbaum over the last ten years, he deliberately and ludically and ironically plays on this duality, on the difficulty of situating and naming him, juxtaposing features of the primitive and the modern, the savage and the cultured: “Stone-Age photographer,” “Tarzan Retired,” with one foot in and one foot out. To bring Tichy back into the world of art does not necessarily involve attributing to him an artistic motivation. It’s rather a matter of putting his work into dialogue with the aspects of the culture and art of past and present: clearly a highly paradoxical approach in that it attempts to read the work and the person in terms of a movement, an aesthetic and a culture, while he himself seems to have spent half a century rejecting them. It is a matter of discovering virtualities, of attempting to describe a process of creation beyond the narrow notion of influence and rupture to which the history of art is so often reduced, taking account of simple similarities, affinities, parallels, common ideas. The task is particularly arduous yet rewarding in Tichy’s case. His cultural isolation since the 1950s, the lack of written sources, his deliberately off-hand attitude towards his photography, the lapidary nature of his explanations: all these are obstacles. The silence of the sources however has its answer in the wealth of the work itself, which offers means of access through the “short-circuits” it effects, the instability of the gaze that it instantiates, and the abundance of parallels that it suggests. Some of these parallels have already been identified and analysed by Tobia Bezzola in the Zurich catalogue: the first consists in the classical training that Tichy received at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague: the vestigial yet permanent presence in many of his photographs of the figures of the academic tradition – from the odalisque to the Three Graces, and beyond
these, the female bathers of the Moderns, from Cézanne to Matisse – is very striking. He himself often emphasizes the continuity of his concerns, from painting and drawing to photography. Marc Lenot, in this catalogue, continues the exploration. The second approach, via parallelism rather than influence strictly speaking, connects Tichy to certain contemporary approaches; first to street photography from the 1950s to the ’70s (Garry Winogrand), in which the female figure appears as a leitmotiv, developing later towards a rawer and more expressionist content (from William Klein to Daido Moriyama). A new history of twentieth-century street photography would unquestionably have to take account of Tichy, no other photographer having gone so far in the use of expressionistic distortion and the rejection of all externally imposed rules, an amplified echo of William Klein’s “Anything goes.” Another parallel may be drawn with an art photography characterised by experimentation with the medium and the search for a certain expressivity, from Sigmar Polke to Arnulf Rainer and Annelies Strba15, these two last indeed having declared a lively interest in Tichy’s work. In pursuing this attempt to locate Tichy in relation to different fields of art and culture, the present catalogue offers a number of new approaches. Marc Lenot, for example, fruitfully compares Tichy to the walking artists of the present day, for whom the street is a terrain of predilection, identifying in his work unintended affinities with theirs and drawing an illuminating parallel with the work and career of Dutch artist Gerard Fieret. Clément Chéroux’s essay explores and elaborates on the model of the amateur photographer, taking up where Fatima Naqvi’s 2006 article on Tichy leaves off.16 Oddly enough, however, no-one has yet attempted to place Tichy’s work and “artistic development” in the cultural and artistic context that is properly theirs, despite Tichy’s isolation: that of his own country and the rest of the post-war Eastern bloc. Czechoslovakia in the years immediately following the war, when Tichy attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague and fully participated in the culture of the day, was marked by a wholesale return to the avant-garde forms that had been banned during the Nazi occupation, with Surrealism taking pride of place. We know how strongly Surrealism had established itself there in the 1920s, surviving through the generations into the 1970s, and how powerfully it influenced the various artistic currents of the time – notably much of the country’s avant-garde photography. It is furthermore very likely that Tichy, in Prague between 1945 and 1948, would have come into contact with Surrealism: a major exhibition on the movement was held in 194717 and many of the great Czech Surrealists – among them Toyen, Strysky and Heisler – exhibited in Prague during the years he was there. Such a link with Surrealism is far from fanciful, as is shown by attentive examination of the work: superficially, Tichy’s photographs would appear to show many affinities with the research in the medium characteristic of certain Surrealist currents and elements of the photographic avant-garde, which made much of the role of chance and accident, among them iconic figures of the inter-war period, such as Funke. But going beyond merely formal parallels, the very heart of Tichy’s project seems to be permeated by Surrealist themes: the exploration of the city and the landscape of surprise, a theme that glimmers through in Tichy’s work; the obsessional eroticism, almost “spectral,” in Dalí’s words, which in its cutting up of the real and its recourse to the extreme close-up is not without resemblance to certain aspects of Surrealist experimental film (Maj, 1935, consists for the most part of close-ups of various parts of women’s bodies with very strong erotic connotations); the importance accorded to a certain automatism in the creative act, reinforced by a fundamental scepticism; the idea of the photograph as a revelation of a world awaiting discovery; and finally the recourse to the figure of the primitive or the savage insensible to moral or political norms as an embodiment of this vision of the world, counterposed to the Socialist model of the New Man. In the same way, Tichy’s retouching and mounting his images on coloured card can be associated with a Czech tradition of combining the photographic image with graphics, inherited from pictorialism but equally to be found, in other forms, in the Functionalist movements of the inter-war period. The work of Frantisek Drtikol, widely diffused in Czechoslovakia from the beginning of the century to the 1920s, offers the best example of this tendency, also very present in Moravia, around Brno, in the inter-war years, with the F5 Group and the experimentation of such as Taborsky. Another approach is to attempt to insert Tichy into the context of an East European art that one might describe as dissident in its occupying the margins and contesting the discourse of the dominant official art. Here it is important not to treat the whole period during which Tichy practiced photography as politically uniform. Between the 1960s, when he took his first photographs, probably using an standard amateur camera, to the mid-1980, when he took his last, the political situation in Czechoslovakia went through different phases: the relative relaxation of the ’60s, which saw a flourishing of avant-garde approaches and a certain opening to the West, was followed after the Prague Spring by a period of renewed control and repression. And the years of Tichy’s most intense activity as a photographer, from 1970 to 1985, coincide with this second, hard-line period. Without suggesting that Tichy’s work was itself politically motivated, in any direct way, it is nonetheless worth noting that his refusal to treat his photographic work as art and his reference to a certain automatism is shared by a Neo-Dada and anti-art tendency common in the countries of the Eastern Bloc during this period, a tendency largely explained by a rejection of art as officially understood. Again, like many of his references, Tichy’s location and attitude are not so different from those of certain artists who were his contemporaries: the recourse to the figure and attributes of the primitive and the savage as a cultural counter-model, as opposed to the “progress” postulated by the then ruling socialist ideology, is not restricted to Tichy. One sees it, for example, in the grotesque and savage objects and rituals and the primitive tribal references of Polish artist Jerzy Beres. The investment of public space as a site of creation and micro-intervention (Tichy’s
candid photographs serving as micro-interventions in this context) can be found in the Czechoslovakia of the same period, in Jiri Kovanda, or indeed certain members of the avant-garde group Aktual, such as Milan Knízák, with his street games and spontaneous actions. It is evidently very difficult, however, to treat Tichy’s work as politically engaged: his personal isolation, his refusal to communicate, to turn his photographs into social or cultural tools, all powerfully argue otherwise. If one then compares his work with that done at the same time by Boris Mikhailov of the Ukraine, more particularly with the group of works entitled Unfinished Dissertation,18 one sees the enormous differences between them, despite the existence of certain similarities: Mikhailov’s dozens of snapshots, pasted onto poor-quality card and annotated in his own hand, do indeed obscurely recall some of Tichy’s photographs, in the chanciness of their formal composition and in their diary-like regularity and repetition. But in their deliberate formal reference to Soviet record-keeping, these kartochi, designed to be flicked through like a card index, allude – deliberately – to the difficulty of working in the public space of the street in the political context of the Ukraine, even as they equally deliberately endeavour to catalogue the interstices, the cracks in the system: the relationship of public and private, the differences in individual behaviour with location. In this sense, much more than Tichy’s, these photographs openly declare their political and discursive nature. If there is a political stance in Tichy, then it is instanced in his strategy of withdrawal – the refusal to get involved in the social life of the community and the quest for autarky that one finds in someone like Bellmer, in the face of the Nazis’ accession to power. In both one finds, grounded in a shared, long-term obsession – the spectral eroticism alluded to earlier – a pursuit of creation by other means and through other means of communication with the world: for Bellmer, the construction of the Doll, for Tichy the construction of the hand-made cameras that would afford him access to another world and which today contribute, almost as much as the images themselves, to the fascination of his work. In both cases, there is the fashioning of a tool that enables a decomposition followed by a “counter-natural recomposition of the real,” to paraphrase Bellmer himself.19. Primitive and deliberately archaizing, Tichy’s photographic technique effects a filtering of ambient reality, the result of the rudimentary optics on the one hand and the primitive printing technique on the other. As prosthetic extensions of the eye, the cameras change his way of seeing things. Rejecting all conceptualisation (“Women are the main theme of my art. One mustn’t think too abstractly”), committed to simple description of things themselves (“I am an observer. I observe as conscientiously as possible”), and claiming to mimesis (“Anything that resembled reality, I’d take a picture. Everything that exists is a representation of the world!”), Tichy’s phenomenological approach becomes, in its militant simplicity, a powerful instrument of transformation of the real. The camera acts as a filter, reducing the social space of the street to an abstraction, with only a few signs and faint points of reference, from which emerge only the female figures, charged with sensuality, reminiscences of the artistic obsessions that have always been his: here is a refusal to symbolize the contemporary world, a nostalgic flight to a world of the past, half dream, half hallucination, that photography enables him to recover. Through the alteration of perception it brings about, the photographic act becomes the discovery of an alternative consciousness. The properly political aspect of Tichy’s work lies then in this recomposition of a “new world,” diametrically opposed to that of the Communism then being constructed. These various readings, however rich and polysemic they may be, are not however sufficient to account for the irreducible singularity of Tichy’s work and the speed and enthusiasm with which it has been recognized. This suddenness is surprising, even if such phenomena are not rare in the field of art, and less so in photography in particular. The mode of this initial reception echoes that of other discoveries in the twentieth-century history of the medium, most notably those of Atget and Lartigue, to name the best known. If at first sight such a comparison tends to raise a smile, it proves upon further reflection to be worthy of serious consideration, for not only does the process of Tichy’s discovery indeed show numerous parallels with the cases of Lartigue and Atget, but the comparison also appears to offer the key to a proper understanding the “Tichy phenomenon” itself. The works of Tichy and Lartigue have indeed already been considered together, at a “Tichy-Lartigue” exhibition at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London in 2006.20 The essays included in the press pack for the exhibition pointed out three essential affinities: the late recognition (Lartigue had his first exhibition at MoMa in 1963, at the age of 69); the promotion of work judged “amateur” and “naive”,21 to the rank of authentic photographic art; and finally, the importance accorded to one single subject, women. To these criteria, one might add a fourth: the important role played in the process by a “discoverer” with his own authority in the artistic field (John Szarkowski for Lartigue in 1963, Szeemann for Tichy in 2004) together with the almost immediate affirmative response from artists. Lartigue was in fact adopted as the father of a new documentary photography by a generation of American photographers, among them Richard Avedon, who published a book on him, Diary of a Century, in 1970, and Diane Arbus. Forty years later, Tichy in his turn would be similarly acclaimed, first by Arnulf Rainer, and then by others, from Blume and Wurm to Ruff and Strba. These two “discoveries” both replay, in their different ways, the founding event of photographic modernity, the elevation of Atget to the rank of creative artist. If the parallel with Atget is less immediately obvious, the process of the latter’s discovery fulfils a number of the criteria noted above and unfolds in more or less the same way: the late discovery again, the first
of Atget’s works to be displayed in an art context being published in the journal La Révolution surréaliste in 1926, when Atget was 69 years old, and the first to be exhibited being shown in 1926, a year after his death; the fundamental role, again, played by artists, both among the Surrealists (Breton, Man Ray, Desnos) and among the more strictly documentary photographers (Abbott, Evans); and finally, and perhaps most importantly, the promotion by the critics of the time of a naive, amateur photography, and its transformation into art. On this last point one might note the phrase “the Douanier Rousseau of photography,” several times applied in recent years to Tichy, notably at the Zurich exhibition, and already, in the 1920s, applied to Atget and his work, amongst others by Desnos, Valentin and Waldemar Georges.22 Like Atget, despite the great differences of period, temperament, subject and photographic language, Lartigue and Tichy were hailed as the exemplars of a photography both naive and primitive, characterised by a complete innocence. It matters not that the figures of innocence are different each time: the modest artisan, in Atget’s case, the eternal child in Lartigue’s, and the “village idiot” in Tichy’s. Thirty years apart, one notes the same stress on the person of the photographer, whose representations play an important role in the creation of the myth.23 The Lartigue - Tichy comparison brings out other affinities: both of them, painters by training and by inclination, turned late to a medium which they had always treated with a certain scepticism. Both show the same reluctance to view their practice in cultural and artistic terms. The phrase “Me, a photographer?” that repeatedly appears in Lartigue’s journals24 has its echo in Tichy’s lapidary denunciations of the insignificance of his photographic work. These attitudes are themselves distant echoes of the modesty of an Atget who produced only “Documents for artists.” In all three cases, we see the identification of an artist malgré lui in photographic practices that seem to exclude the figure of the author or creator, being governed by extra-artistic logics, whether in the case of Atget’s documentary archive, Lartigue’s accumulation of amateur snapshots, or Tichy’s repetitive, automatic and quasi-therapeutic production. The suddenness of recognition results from both the quality of the work and the particular way it relates to the spirit of the age: the impenetrable mutism of Atget’s images, the silence of a world both transparently evident and opaque, allowed both Surrealists and documentarists to claim them for themselves. This silence made Atget the object of consensual approbation among the photographic avant-gardes of the period, the keystone of photographic modernity. In its freshness and amateur modernism the naive and innocent eye of the young Lartigue accorded both with the exploratory spirit of the street photography and the new documentary photography of the time, echoing the massively popular practice of snapshot photography promoted by the arrival of the Kodak camera. Both found themselves drafted into the history of modern photography, serving as tutelary figures for a generation of photographers. It is clear how the work of someone like Tichy fits this model, with the interest in a new, amateur aesthetic, characterized by a taste for the figures of fault and accident – its blurring, unorthodox framing, disappearing subjects, chemical problems and damage due to the passage of time challenging and redefining the notion of mimesis. Says Tichy: “The faults are integral to the work. It’s a question of poetry, of the pictorial quality. To tell the truth, the lens wasn’t very good, but perhaps that’s the art of it!” From this point of view, one might see in him no more than a new instance of the amateur, who would be for our age what Lartigue was for the 1960s, and whose success would be in the end be the measure of the ever-expanding limits of what may properly be considered photography. This continuity should not however lead us to neglect the vast difference that exists between the historical context of Lartigue’s discovery in the 1960s and that of Tichy’s later. We must not forget that the reception of Atget and Lartigue was associated with the constitution of a linear and artistic history of photography, with its genealogies and filiations, a history today abandoned. Coming after modernity, the discovery of Tichy insists much more on his singularity and unrelatedness. The dateleness, the timeless repetition, the absence of linearity or internal development, the technical autarky, and the photographer’s own cultural isolation make this a body of work closed in on itself and difficult to assimilate to anything else. And it is probably no coincidence that Tichy’s solitary reinvention of film photography should have received such an enthusiastic welcome just as the advent of digital photography threatens to consign film to history. It certainly contributes to a certain magical quality: beyond the apparent repetitiousness of subject, one is struck by the changing aspect of the images, evoking, in an indescribable chaos, the whole history of photography, from its inventors (Talbot, Bayard), through the art photography25 and pictorialism of the late 19th century to the experimentation of today (Polke, Tillmans). Like a perverse, backward reading of the history of photography, Tichy’s work proposes the idea of creation through reaction, whereas the earliest readings of Atget and Lartigue wrongfully inscribed these in the dynamic of a linear and progressive history of the image. This idea of regression is at the heart of Tichy’s project, as it is perhaps at the heart of all modernity. “To get there, what you need more than anything is a bad camera! [...] If you want to be famous, you have to do something worse than anyone else in the world! Something perfect and beautiful interests nobody.” Beyond the Dadaist provocation of his claims, Tichy here echoes the ambiguous formulation of Baudelaire, a bad fairy bent over the crib of the new painting, who wrote to Manet: “You are only first in the decrepitude of your art”.26 An assertion that foreshadows Kafka who in a prophetic text27, early in the 20th century, wondered about the metamorphosis under way in art: “Cracking a nut is really not an art, and therefore no one would ever dare to call together an audience and crack nuts in front of them in order to entertain them. If he does it anyway and he succeeds in his intention, then it can certainly not be a matter of nut-cracking alone. Or it is a matter of nut-cracking, but it becomes clear that we have ignored this art because we have mastered it too completely, and this new nutcracker shows us its true nature for the first time, in which case it might even be useful for the effect if he were even less skilled in nut-cracking than most of us.” Simultaneously modern and anti-modern, Miroslav Tichy cracks nuts like nobody else.
* Most quotes from Miroslav Tichy are from his interviews with Harald Szeemann or Roman Buxbaum, filmed in 1982 and 2006 (Roman Buxbaum, Miroslav Tichy: Tarzan Retired, film on DVD, Foundation Tichy Ocean, © Roman Buxbaum, 2006; French subtitles by Marc Lenot, under the direction of Roman Buxbaum).
Roman Buxbaum, “Ein Außenseiter unter den Außenseitern”, Kunstforum, No. 101, June 1989.
Tobia Bezzola (curator), “Miroslav Tichy,” Zurich, Kunsthaus, 15 July - 18 Sept. 2005.
36th “Rencontres d’Arles”, Arles, Actes Sud, 2005. Tichy’s work was shown there on the initiative of Marta Gili.
Since 2005, works by Tichy have been acquired by the Centre Pompidou / Musée National d’Art Moderne and the Maison Rouge in France; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Museum of Modern Art MMK, Frankfurt; Haus der Photographie Deichtorhallen, Hamburg; Kunstmuseum des Kantons Thurgau, Switzerland; Klatovy/Klenová Gallery, Czech Republic; the Museum of Fine Art, Houston; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
In addition to the present catalogue, one might mention the following monographic works: Andreas Bee and Udo Kittelmann (eds), Miroslav Tichy, Ostfildern, Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2008; Tobia Bezzola and Roman Buxbaum (eds), Miroslav Tichy, Cologne, DuMont, 2005; Roman Buxbaum and Pavel Vancat, Miroslav Tichy, Prague and Zurich, Foundation Tichy Ocean, 2006; Roman Buxbaum, Tichy, Tokyo, Taka Ishii Gallery and Fondation Tichy Ocean, 2007; Roman Buxbaum (ed.), Miroslav Tichy, Cologne, Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König and Foundation Tichy Ocean, 2008.
Cf. the exhibition “Bildnerei der Geisteskranken,” Berne, Kunsthalle Bern, 1963.
See in particular Arnold Odermatt, Karambolage, Göttingen, Steidl, 2003, and Arnold Odermatt, On Duty, Göttingen, Steidl, 2006.
The first citation from Harald Szeeman comes from his preface to the exhibition catalogue published on the occasion of the Seville Biennale in 2004; the second from an interview in Miroslav Tichy, Tarzan Retired, a film by Roman Buxbaum, Foundation Tichy Ocean, © Roman Buxbaum, 2006.
Art. cit. See note 1.
See Arnulf Rainer et sa collection d’art brut, Aix-en-Provence and Paris, Fage and La Maison Rouge, 2005.
Colin Rhoades, L’Art outsider. Art brut et création hors normes au XXe siècle, London, Thames & Hudson, 2001 (in French translation).
Colin Rhoades, op. cit., and Roger Cardinal, “Toward an Outsider Aesthetic”, in Michael D. Hall and Eugene W. Metcalf Jr. (eds), The Artist Outsider, Creativity and the Boundaries of Culture, Washington and London, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994, p. 20-43.
John Turner and Deborah Klochko (eds), Create and Be Recognized: Photography on the Edge, San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 2004.
Artists for Tichy / Tichy for Artists, Nürnberg, Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2006.
Annelies Strba of has been interested in Tichy’s work since 1990 and has made a film, Tichy.
Fatima Naqvi, “The Artist as Amateur: Miroslav Tichy”, in Artists for Tichy / Tichy for Artists, op. cit.
“Le surréalisme international,” a more compact version of the “Exposition internationale du surréalisme” presented that same year in Paris.
See especially Boris Mikhailov, Unfinished Dissertation, Zurich, Berlin and New York, Scalo, 1998. The series Unfinished Dissertation (1984) consists of silver gelatine prints pasted on card.
Cited by Agnès de la Beaumelle, in “Hans Bellmer: les jeux de La Poupée, les enjeux du dessin,” Hans Bellmer, Anatomie du désir, Paris, Gallimard and Centre Pompidou, 2006, p. 259.
“Miroslav Tichy and Jacques Henri Lartigue”, London, Michael Hoppen Gallery, 1 May - 17 June 2006.
The terms “candid” and “candid camera”: were applied to Lartigue’s work as they have been to Tichy’s.
Guillaume Le Gall, “Visions surréalistes”, in exhibition catalogue Atget, une rétrospective, Bibliothèque nationale de France / Hazan, Paris, 2007.
Olivier Lugon, “L’histoire de la photographie selon Eugène Atget, in Atget, une rétrospective, op. cit.
On this see especially Martine d’Astier, Quentin Bajac and Alain Sayag (eds), Lartigue, l’album d’une vie, Paris, Centre Pompidou / Le Seuil, 2003. On the discovery of Lartigue see Kevin Moore, Jacques Henri Lartigue : The Invention of an Artist, Columbia and Princeton, University Press of California, 2004.
Taking this approach, Magasin 3 in Stockholm juxtaposed Tichy and Julia Margaret Cameron: “Miroslav Tichy och Julia Margaret Cameron”, Stockholm Konsthall, Magasin 3, 26 Jan. - 23 March 2008.
“À Édouard Manet”, letter from Charles Baudelaire to Édouard Manet, Thursday 11 May 1865, in Charles Baudelaire, Correspondance (mars 1860 - mars 1866), Paris, Éditions Gallimard, “Bibliothèque de la Pléiade”, 1973, p. 496-497.
Franz Kafka, “Joséphine la Cantatrice ou le peuple des souris”, in Un jeûneur et autres nouvelles, trans. Bernard Lortholary, Paris, Garnier-Flammarion, 1993, pp. 87-112.
TARZAN RETIRED – MEMORIES OF MIROSLAV TICH⌥ Roman Buxbaum1
Intensity always finds its medium! Harald Szeemann, 2005
When I was a little boy , my grandmother used to say: “Wash your hands! Otherwise you’ll be like Miroslav Tich￼”. To many grandmothers in our little Moravian town Kyjov, Tich￼ was the bad example par excellence. To the children this tall, burly, longhaired man with torn black clothes was a frightening creature and to the adults the paradigm of the otherness and the ridiculous. But me, since I had known him since my birth I felt drawn to the scent of adventure that surrounded him. For us little boys his studio in my grandmother’s attic had an irresistible attraction. Fragments of a mysterious world appeared through the keyhole: oil paintings, a pile of drawings, and large puppets carved out of wood. A magical world unfurled before our eyes. When I was about five or six, Mirek made a pinhole camera for me from a shoebox. In the bathroom, we pasted a piece of photographic paper on to the back of the box. We made a hole in the front lid with a pin and stuck a piece of tape over it. Then we set out for the city. One photograph we made together with the shoebox has been salvaged; in the small, brownish photo you can see an old ⇧koda car before the town hall’s Renaissance tower, in the background the old Jewish ghetto of Kyjov. That photo marked not only the beginning of my admiration for Miroslav Tich￼ as a photographer but also the first step on my own road as an artist. My relation to the artist is a long one. For me the Tich￼ project is in third generation already. Only with the help from our ancestors, Mirek and I have had the necessary basis and continuity for such an unusual relationship with so many different aspects. First I was born the nephew of Miroslav Tich￼’s best friend (my uncle) and a little boy in his neighborhood. Thirty years later I became his “discoverer”, collector and promoter of his work. Now I help to take care of him in his old days. Thus I do not intend – nor could I offer to you – an academic résumé of Tich￼’s work, for I lack the requisite objectivity. So I hope you will forgive me for providing a bare-bones report, a subjective story of this extraordinary man. Miroslav Tich￼ was born in Kyjov on November 20, 1926. He was the only son of a tailor who opened his shop near to my great grandfather’s house. Miroslav was an introverted, bright child, close to his mother. Owing to a gift for languages, he excelled in school. From early childhood, he started to draw and though his family had a hard time understanding, after graduating the Gymnasium in Kyjov he was determined to become a painter. In May 1945 the war ended, and both Miroslav Tich￼ and my uncle Harry Buxbaum went to Prague to start their studies. One photograph from those days shows them happily walking along the boulevards of Prague. The world seemed to be alright. Those were times of hope, a short respite between two dictatorships. Miroslav Tich￼ started his first year at the Academy of Fine Arts (AVU) in Prague and enrolled in the class taught by Professor Ján ✏elibsk￼. After five years of forced closure due to war, the universities in Czechoslovakia had re-opened their doors. Older students from Miroslav Tich￼’s region also joined this first class after the war, among them Vladimír Va⌃íc´ek, his painter friend from Svatobo ice near Kyjov who would become a longtime companion. Va⌃íc´ek was five years older and had attended the war-time Ba a School of Arts in Zlín, then the only art school in occupied Czechoslovakia. It’s probable that the young Tich￼ was influenced by Va⌃í ek before going to Prague. At the academy he was considered a gifted student especially strong in drawing and a good entertainer. In his early work Tich￼ was obviously following the examples of the modern painting. The influence of Picasso and Matisse but also of the German expressionists is visible in his works from the fifties. Josef Maliva writes about a group of young artists’ meetings revolving around the painter Jir´í Martin, who had lived in Paris and communicated his experiences with the art students. In addition to Va⌃íc´ek and Tich￼, Fremund, Dostál, and Kolínská2 were also part of this group. For Fremund, Va⌃íc´ek and Tich￼ it was the beginning of a long artistic friendship. This was a good time in Tich￼’s life. It would not last long. After the Communist takeover in February 1948, drastic changes took place at the Academy. Respected professors and assistants were quickly thrown out, replaced by stalwart Communists. Tich￼ stopped going to school or meeting his friends from the academy and spent his time walking about Prague. Finally he was dismissed from the Academy and had to do his compulsory military service. It seems that the political crisis coincided with a personal crisis, and the young artist could not deal with both at the same time. The 1950s in Czechoslovakia were the ice age of Stalinism, gripped by the paranoia of espionage and cold war. Those days fraught with danger and uncertainty only encouraged Tich￼’s withdrawal from society. We do not know anything about Tich￼’s life in the military service from 1948–1950 in eastern Slovakia; he does not speak about it and does not want to remember. When Miroslav returned home to Kyjov in 1950, he would not be the same, my uncle Harry used to remember. He returned to his parents’ house, where he lives ever since. I often wonder what Tich￼’s life would have been like if the Communists had not taken power. Would he have remained at the Academy, or would he have left for Paris? And then would he ever have discovered photography? We will never know. But, as Harald Szeemann said when he first looked through Tich￼’s originals, “Intensity will always find its medium.3” In 1954 my grandmother would leave to him a room in our house for a studio, so he was a frequent guest in our kitchen. I still remember him well from the floor perspective of three years old. Kyjov’s cultural scene was small and hidden in the privacy of the kitchens and livingrooms. In addition to Vladimír Va⌃íc´ek, Jir´í Dundera and Ladislav Ví⌃ek were important friends for the
young Tich￼. The three young men drew, dreamed up theater plays and experimented with photography in the early 1950s. Ví⌃ek was a passionate photographer. He had built his own laboratory and even enlarged color prints; he built the color filters himself. Together they would toy with photograms, laying scraps of paper and materials on photo paper and illuminating it. It is possible that Tichy lerned the photographic know how from Ví⌃ek4 in this time. The first exhibition of Miroslav Tich￼’s work took place in 1956 in the Kyjov hospital. The exhibit showed pictures of Tich￼, together with Vladimír Va⌃íc´ek and Bohumír Matal and other painters from a group called the Brno Five, artists that did not bend to the doctrine of social realism, but continued the tradition of the European modern painting5. Like Tich￼, Va⌃íc´ek moved from Prague back to his hometown Kyjov. Here in the countryside, far away from the capital, the artists were more free of ideological pressures. An exhibition in the 50ties in Czechoslovakia, and especially one of party-defying artists came with great risks. The step from the hidden, private space of the studio into the open of an exhibition was a dangerous step for Tich￼. His bold “coming out” as an avant-garde artist that would oppose to the official doctrine must have frightened Tich￼’s parents and neighbors. The next exhibition, in which MT was invited to participate, was scheduled to take place in December 1957 at the Galerie Mlad￼ch U Recick￼ch in Prague, a renown art institution in the capital. Stalin was dead now. The Brno group could be shown in Prague despite its official rejection of social realism. This epochal show is still remembered as one of the starting points of the Chruschtschow era. And Miroslav Tich￼ was invited to be a part of it. His pictures had already been selected and were ready to go to Prague in his artist friends Matals studio in Brno. But on the morning of November 2, 1957 Miroslav Tich￼ went to see Bohumír Matal in Brno again and withdrew his participation from the exhibition6. He was visibly disoriented. On the way back he took the wrong train and landed somewhere in Czechia, instead in Kyjov. Only on Wednesday night he came home, in a desolate condition. His worried mother called Harry Buxbaum, now a psychiatrist in a clinic in Opava and Harry drove his childhood friend in his own car to the clinic that night. The plans for the exhibition have caused him an acute psychotic breakdown. Tich￼ was prone to mental breakdowns ever since puberty and had been repeatedly treated ever since7. When he was doing well and felt good, Tich￼ painted and drew a lot. Contrary to art brut artists, Tich￼ worked best when completely healthy (like Van Gogh, Emil Nolde or other artists suffering from psychic disorders). During the mental breakdowns Tich￼ would not paint, draw or photograph8. The illness paralyzed his artistic potential. During the breakdowns he lost any interest in his artwork and even destroyed a large amount of his pictures, drawings and photographs. Again and again he burned them in the oven. His father kept works hidden, so Mirek would not distroy them. By the mid 1950s his interest in painting had increasingly flagged9. Since the psychotic episode in 1956, triggered by the exhibition in Prague, he kept a deep mistrust toward museums and exhibition. They stayed dangerous for him. It took almost fifty years before Tich￼ allowed his work to be shown again. From the early 1980s on I used to visit Tich￼ regularly, and for a long time I was the only one interested in his photographs. We would look through piles of photographs together. Tich￼ would leaf through them and give me this one or that one, depending on what I liked. Later then I would bye them in large amounts from his neighbors, who would not understand, that I was willing to spend money for such dirty and unsharp prints. Miroslav rarely accepted money; I could contribute to his needs only secretly through the neighbors. After long and intense conversations with Miroslav, I decided to release the photographs in my collection for exhibitions. Tich￼ had grown old, and he should get to see in his lifetime, that he was a great artist. Tich￼’s first solo exhibition, at the Seville Biennial (BIACS), was opened by Harald Szeemann in 2004. It was followed by a large retrospective in the Kunsthaus, Zurich. His hitherto unknown work is now being exhibited practically all over the world. Tich￼ could not visit any of the exhibitions, but he was proud to see reports and books published about him. These lay on his table, and the exhibition posters hang on the wall. He liked showing them to visitors. Tich￼ would rarely admit to having allowed an exhibit. In a bad mood, he will hurl curses and accusations at anyone who dares to show his works in public. When I present him with the catalogue from the exhibition in Seville, he was visibly moved. He looked at the photo of Harald Szeemann, hairy and bearded: “Szeemann is a great mind,” he said, “but he grooms himself!” That was the most approval Tich￼ would ever offer. In the 1960s Tich￼ began to neglect his appearance. He didn’t cut his hair or trim his beard, and he wore a ragged black suit. If he tore his trousers, he patched them up while still wearing them, using a piece of string or wire. He was the antithesis of the ideal new Socialist man – that is, the clean-shaven, muscular foreman who tried hard to exceed the Five-Year Plan. In the eyes of his shaken fellow citizens, Tich￼ was an oddball and a loser, in the eyes of the police, he was a dissident.10 He was denounced by his communist neighbors, beaten by the police and locked up in psychiatry11 against his will often just because of his looks, stayed however, strong and combative. Often he hid or fled the police or even worse, involved in fights with them12. “I’m a samurai. My sole aim is to destroy my enemies.” In 1972 MT was evicted from the studio in my grandmothers house13, after the house was taken away from her by the socialist nationalization. Now the streets of Kyjov became his studio and he switched more and more to photography. Tich￼ was a reactionary and a effective one; unlike the Five-Year Plans, he achieved his aims. The “Stone-Age photographer” was the embodiment of an insult to the small-town communist elite. He became the living antithesis of progressivity, of the Marxist theory of history moving in a straight line forward. While Yuri Gagarin was conquering outer space, Tich￼ was making cameras from garbage. He made a radio out of wood and built a washing machine – the symbol of progress of the socialistic camp in the race against capitalism. He put himself into reverse, moving backward against the
ideology of progress. “I don’t know who my grandfather was, but my great grandfather was a dinosaur!” The mess in Tich￼’s home immediately engulfed every visitor. Mountains and valleys of books, pictures, tools, unwashed dishes, drawings, and paper covered the floor, table, and all the furniture. The electrical wiring was hanging free in the air. When visiting him, as soon as you overcame the initial shock and grew accustomed to the unmistakable stench, his place began to feel cozy. You sat on a shaky chair and drank from a brown mug that once upon a time was white. Like the walls of the room, the books, and the photographs, the mugs, too, were allowed to go the way of all things: from birth to death. “I am a prophet of decay and a pioneer of chaos, because only from chaos does something new emerge.” On his own turf, however, Tich￼ moved in all directions masterfully and confidently. Other laws applied here. The world of chance and chaos constituted a ferment in which material matures, immersed in the depths of Tich￼ Oceán14, to be brought back to the surface changed and worn by time. The paintings, drawings, and prints were scattered chaotically throughout Tich￼’s house. Many of them were soiled and damaged. The hall of the house was barricaded by paintings and frames leaning against the walls. Others were piled up high, treated unkindly by their maker. When they got in his way, he mercilessly threw them aside. Many of them show damage inflicted many years ago. Cracks and dents are the most frequent injuries. The oil paintings are covered with such a thick layer of dust that they are not recognizable. If a visitor wants to look at a painting, Tich￼ wipes it off with a wet sponge. A picture of dark and richly glowing colors briefly emerges beneath his fingertips, but the dust remains on the surface of the painting. “As I wipe it with water, the dust becomes transparent. The dust stays on the painting, but it becomes invisible,” Tich￼ explains. Tich￼ has abandoned the social and esthetic conventions. He went into internal exile and became an observer of the society, especially the female part of it. He emigrated into a dream world, a world of woman, Città delle donne15. Like Milan Kundera and Ivan Klíma, but also like the beatniks16 on the other side of the wall, many dissidents found an escape in eroticism. I asked several times about Tich￼ attitude toward women and the erotic. He would not answer directly: “A woman, for me, is a motif. Nothing else interests me. I didn’t run wild with women. Even when I see a woman I like – and perhaps I could have tried to make contact – I realize that I’m not actually interested. Instead, I pick up a pencil and draw her. The erotic is just a dream, anyway. The world is only an illusion, our illusion. … Enjoyment is a concept that I absolutely disallow. How could such a skeptic enjoy something! – Momentary feelings! I don’t take anything seriously anymore, least of all myself.” When asked why he became increasingly involved with photography, he replied: “The paintings were already painted, the drawings drawn. What was I supposed to do? I looked for a new media. With the help of photography I saw everything in a new light. It was a new world. … As a painter and drawer Tich￼ had trained his sense for the female figure, his painterly mindset, and his eye for composition. As a painter and drawer he now pressed the camera’s release. As in his line drawings, his lightness and casualness shaped his photographic style. The photograph was not meant to be a product in itself, not to be shown or exhibited. It was preparation for drawings or paintings or private studies of the artist.17 With his conception of photography, Tich￼ remained true to the principles of Impressionism. Photography and drawing were interchangeable physical media for him. “People ask me, ‘What are you, Mr. Tich￼? Are you a painter, a sculptor, or a writer?’ I reply, ‘You know who I am? I am Tarzan retired.’” He set up a darkroom in the courtyard of his house. He made himself an enlarger from boards and two slats, which he pulled off of the fence. The slats are joined together with sheet metal so that they can be slid in and out lengthwise – to focus the picture. To keep the enlarger head from slipping, he wedged a piece of sheet metal between the slats. The lamp box is a light bulb in a tin can. He borrowed a lens from a disused camera. Between the light source and the lens he made the negative tray out of plywood with a hole for rewinding the spool of negatives. Each print was unique, not made for others, but just for the artist’s curiosity. In principle Tich￼ refused equipment that was offered to him. Making things himself was an expression of his independence, like remaining unwashed and wearing ragged clothes. It was not that he could not afford to buy cameras. He possessed a large equipment of 35mm and middle format cameras. Tich￼ carried always a camera under his sweater. Usually it was the cheapest Bakelite camera, made in the Soviet Union, which he had bought in a junk shop and adapted to his needs. When something attracted his attention, he reached over and with his left hand raised the hem of his sweater, and with his right hand opened the camera case and pressed the shutter release, without even looking in the viewfinder. The movement was so fluid and fast that it was almost impossible to notice it. In this way, he said, laughing, he could “I can hit a swallow in flight.” Tich￼’s day began early. Usually he was already outside by six o���clock in the morning. He photographed quickly, imperceptibly, or from quite far away. His favorite places where he regularly went to take photographs where on his daily round through the town. On his way to the town he started photographing at the bus station, then he would reach the main square, maybe take some pictures by the church, before going to the milk bar for a drink or to the drugstore just next to bye film or paper. In the summer he would continue to the park and photograph there and to the swimming pool next to the park, where he would photograph from outside through the wire fence. Here he found the models that he had lost when the communists banned drawing from live nude models at the Academy in 1948. The negatives show his day like a film in slow motion. “I went to town and had to do something. I was simply pressing the release. I’d use three rolls of film a day. One hundred photos a day. That
happened automatically without any effort on my part. I was just an observer – but a very good one.” Even in the eighties, at the height of his photographic activities, Tich￼ continued drawing, painting and his graphic work. He would never have agreed to be looked at as a photographer. Miroslav Tich￼’s work can be grouped in three periods: the early work, the photographic period and the late work. From the early workperiod (1940ties – 1960ties) I estimate, a bodie of two or three hundred oil paintings and several thousand drawings have survived. The bodie of the photographic work is not easily estimated.18 A large amount of prints and negatives have been distroyed or are still not in evidence. I estimate, an amount of several hundred extraordinary works might have survived, among them the often exhibited and published works with eleboratly decorated handmade frames or astonishing photographic “icons”, that constitute the centre of Miroslav Tichys photographic corpus. There are further two or three thousand photographs of good quality with frames or without frames, but prepared for framing by the artist and there are prints of minor value left in the laboratory by the artist. The late period consists of a large amount of drawings, prints and some paintings. This period is not defined just chronologicaly but differs also formaly from the early works. The late period starts parallel to the photographic work in the 70ties and reaches its peak in the 1980s. Some works can be dated until end of the 1990ties, when Tich￼’s artistic activities slowly came to an end.19 The lightness and elegance of the line so typical for his early works from the fifties, vanished. Dark shades of green and brown replaced the radiant colors of his early works. What remained is the same motif, but the women’s figures no longer seem so sweet and idealized; they have gradually been distorted and seem sometimes almost lasciviously displaying the female bodie in a way ressembling George Grosz or Max Beckmann. During this period Tich￼ discovered new methods, such as painting on wooden panels, which he found in the courtyard, and printmaking. For his prints he was able to use anything with a smooth surface: pieces of wood, linoleum, a chopping board, a piece of Plexiglas, a piece of cellophane, bits of a plastic pail. After scratching out the drawing he applied paint with the palm of his hand and then, applying pressure with a spoon, transferred it to paper. He made a considerable number of these monotypes. Tich￼ has photographed people in the park and on the balconies of the blocks of towers surrounding it. That requires a powerful telescopic lens with a focal length of some hundred millimeters. He made them himself out of materials he found lying around. He constructed a system of lenses out of old eyeglasses and Plexiglas. His way of working seems almost primitive, but he wouldn’t have managed without an intimate knowledge of the laws of optics. He cut his own lenses out of Plexiglas with a knife, and then polished them with sandpaper, toothpaste and cigarette ash. For the body of the telephoto lens he used paper tubes or plastic drainpipes. He often put several lenses in them, which he affixed with glue or asphalt. He also used a children’s telescope, mounted on a wooden holder as a telescopic lens. The whole thing looks like some kind of weapon. He invented very complicated cameras with variable closure times. He assembled the body from cardboard and plywood, sealed it with asphalt from the road, and painted it black. From two empty spools of thread and dressmaker’s elastic he assembled the rewind mechanism, a sort of pulley system, to which he attached the shutter. The shutter was made of plywood with a little window cut through it. Depending on the tension of the elastic, the shutter flipped through the camera quickly or slowly, exposing the film for a shorter or longer period. It’s hard to believe that he could make such subtle, Impressionist pictures with such a clumsy instrument. This deliberate disdain for the photographic ideal of cleanliness is not reflected in his work as a shortcoming or brutalization but as the intensification of sensuousness. Thanks to his rough handling of the material, the female figures emerge from a soft, Impressionist light as if by miracle. Their essence, their being, is not expressed in realism, in perfect representation, but on the contrary, in the negation of it. Every time I visited him, Tich￼ always had a large amount of developed films in his darkroom hanging on a laundry line. The only window was blacked out with black fabric. On a table was his homemade enlarger, beside it a shallow bowl of developer fluid. A large cooking pot was filled with fixer. A washbasin was used to rinse off the prints. He looked at his negatives first under the enlarger, then chose the shot and the crop. I once asked Tich￼ what criteria he used to choose photographs for enlarging. He replied: “I didn’t choose anything. I put a film it in the enlarger, and then moved it, and I printed whatever vaguely resembled the world. But what is the world? Everything that is, that is the world.” Each print was a single vintage print from a negative, made just for the artists curiosity. With scissors he cut a piece of photographic paper (or he often simply tore it by hand). He then put the photo paper on the table under the light, and when he reckoned it had been exposed long enough, he took it away. He submerged the exposed paper in the developer in the shallow bowl. He left it over night in fixer in a tub in the courtyard. He didn’t use tongs, working instead with his hands, which is why some of his photographs have a fingerprint in the upper right-hand corner (or even a whole handprint, if he forgot to let the paper go when exposing it). Once the photographs had been in the water bath long enough, he took them out, dried them on the laundry line, and pressed them in books. Lastly, he put the photos in a large box beside his bed so that they would always be within easy reach. That completed the first phase of the printing process. He then continued working on the prints in the box. When he liked a photo, he took it out of the box, looked at it for a while, then took scissors and cut off part of it. He wasn’t too concerned about right angles, but he cared a great deal about the laws of composition. Sometimes on the back of a photograph he penciled a note about the color of the mount, for example “light ochre.” Often he wrote down two or three colors. “I need inspiration for that. Then I see colors.” “Photography is painting with light!” The framing mattered a lot to Tich￼. He put the photographs into matting, which he also made himself. Out of a pile
of paper he pulled a piece whose color suited the photograph. Then he found a piece of cardboard and pasted the paper onto it. Professionally he glued paper of the same weight to the back, so that the cardboard wouldn’t warp. For this he used a page of newspaper with the TV program listings or a page out of a book, a paper bag, a drawing, or even a photograph he no longer wanted. Later he glued down the photograph or cut out a frame, sometimes completed the work with pencils or paint. He has repeatedly used pencil on his enlargements to emphasize unclear contours and to cover disturbing flaws in the prints. He has sometimes reworked and tinted whole parts. The transition to drawing is fluid. “I improve it a little.” When I pointed out the stains from bromide, he replied: “A mistake, a mistake. That’s what makes the poetry, gives it the painterly quality. Philosophy is something abstract, but photography is concrete, a perception. The eye, what you see. First of all, you have to have a bad camera! If you want to be famous, you have to do something so badly that no one else in the world does it as badly! Not so nicely, beautifully elaborate; no one is interested in that.” It is astonishing how many “mistakes” and “shortcomings” Tich￼’s works can bear. Everything is underexposed or overexposed, out of focus, made from scratched negatives, developed on paper that is either cut by hand or even torn, with dust and dirt on everything, filth in the camera and in the darkroom, finger prints, bromide stains, edges gnawed by rats and silverfish. The route the photographs take once they leave the darkroom is a dismal one. Their maturation begins by being thrown into a pile of dust for several years. The harsh postproduction methods in Tich￼’s studio include sitting on the photographs, sleeping on them, stepping on them, cutting off the edges, improving the composition with a ball-point pen or colored pencils, folding them, using them under a table leg to keep the table from wobbling, spilling coffee or rum on them, letting mice and silverfish feast on them, throwing them out of the window, forgetting about that, even when it begins to rain, then finding them again and saving them, sticking them onto a piece of cardboard, giving them a mat, and, finally, noting on the back the TV listings. Tich￼’s photographs often present reality as illusion, as a mere semblance; beauty becomes a dream. For that, Tich￼ needed not only a “bad camera” but also, indeed above all, a different way of living and looking at the world. And what a miracle – even the unattractive becomes beautiful. Imperfection creates poetry. Poor-quality lenses change the world. Scratches turn into unreal textures and dust and spots are transformed into traces of time. To let time flow. To paint with light. “Chance,” says Tich￼. “It’s all just chance.“
* Most quotations of Miroslav Tich￼ originate from the video interviews recorded between 1982 and 2007. Miroslav Tich￼: Tarzan Retired. DVD, Roman Buxbaum, 2007
About the author: Roman Buxbaum knew Miroslav Tich￼ since his childhood as a neighbor of Miroslav Tich￼ in the little town of Kyjov in Czech Republic. Buxbaum’s uncle was Tich￼’s school friend and his grandmother was a friend of Miroslav Tich￼’s mother. In 1968 Roman Buxbaums family immigrated to Switzerland, where he studied psychiatry and arts. 1981, after years of exile Buxbaum came back to Kyjov and discovered the photographic work of Miroslav Tich￼, started to document Tich￼’s life and work and to save and collect Tich￼’s photographs, most of which would have been destroyed otherwise. Since 2004 Buxbaum started to present and to promote Miroslav Tich￼’s work in public. After the death of Tich￼’s mother, Buxbaum helped together with a neighbor to provide for Tich￼’s needs and his wellbeing. Mirek is a pet name for Miroslav used by familly or near friends.
Josef Maliva, Vladimír Va⌃íc´ek. Chagall Gallerie soudobn￼ch autoru°, Ostrava 1993, p. 11
The late curator Harald Szeemann has introduced Miroslav Tich￼’s work to the world of art with the first exhibition at the Bienal of Seville in 2004. This was Miroslav Tich￼’s first exhibition and Harald Szeemann’s last. He died shortly after. ›
Memories of Jir´í Dundera.
Dundera, Jir´í. “Miroslav Tich￼, zapomenut￼ malírº a objeven￼ fotograf,” Kyjovské noviny.
Letter from ✏ofie Tichá to Harry Buxbaum, Kyjov, November 14, 1957.
Files from the psychiatric clinic in Opava.
Entrance examination by Dr. Bure⌃ová, psychiatric clinic in Opava, November 9, 1957
Notes from Tichá. MT archive, Foundation Tich￼ oceán, 1972
Kozánek, Petr; Cejp, Milo⌃; and others. Chartasignateur Petr Kozánek made a wonderful series of photographic portraits of Miroslav Tich￼ in the 1970s.
Buxbaum, Roman in Bezzola, Tobia and Buxbaum, Roman (eds.). Miroslav Tich￼ (Cologne: DuMont, 2005), p. 96.
Interview with a former policeman of the SNB Kyjov.
Documents from the MT Archivs, Foundation Tich￼ Oceán..
Tich￼ means “quiet” in Czech. Tich￼ oceán means Pacific Ocean. The metaphor of the Tich￼ Oceán reoccurred in so many conversations with Tich￼ that
we finally decided to name the foundation after it. Foundation Tich￼ oceán is determined to place a core collection of Tich￼’s work, as well as the collection “Artists for Tich￼ – Tich￼ for Artists” in the Czech Republic. 15
Federico Fellini, 1981, with Marcello Mastroianni as the businessman Marcello who follows a woman in a dreamlike state, losing her, finds himself in a large hotel surrounded by women only – attrackted and threatened by them, a man in the City of woman.
Charles Bukowski is a good example of an internal dissidency into the body and his functions. But also in Gainsborough language Clint Burnham has described not only formalistic parallels to Tichys use of photography. See Clint Burnham in Miroslav Tichy, ed. Roman Buxbaum, Prestel, 2008
Interview with Lenka Kovandová, who modeled for Tich￼ in the 1980s..
The estimates in this text are based on a first and very incomplete database of the Foundation Tich￼ Oceán that tries to include all works known to us. Hopefully in the coming years we will be able to present a more precise data or even a catalogue raisonné.
It is difficult to date the works. Miroslav Tich￼ did rarely date or sign his works and did not keep any documentation. The photographs were shuffled like cards for many years and worked over by the artist and time.
BIOGRAPHY 20 November 1926 Born in Kyjov (Czech Republic). 1945-1948 Studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, Prague. 1948 Abandons studies on Communist takeover of power. Undergoes personal crisis. 1948-1950 Compulsory military service in Eastern Slovakia. 1950 Returns to Kyjov, where he settles. Mid-1950s Begins photography. 1956 Exhibits paintings and drawings at the Kyjov hospital. December 1957 Withdraws work from group show at the Mladych Gallery, Prague.Suffers a serious psychotic breakdown requiring hospitalization. Early 1960s Becomes increasingly neglectful of his personal appearance. At the same time, begins to take photographs on a daily basis, using cameras he builds himself. 1960s Repeated run-ins with the authorities, leading to victimization and internment in psychiatric hospitals. 1972 Evicted from his studio. Devotes more and more time to photography. Late 1980s Abandons photography entirely. 1989 First article on Tichyâ€™s photography published in the magazine Kunstforum, on the initiative of Roman Buxbaum. 2004 First exhibition of his photographs, at the Seville Biennale, on the initiative of Harald Szeemann. 2005 One-person show at Kunsthaus Zurich. 2008 Living in Kyjov still.
VISUALS FOR THE PRESS Portrait of Miroslav Tichy by Roman Buxbaum, ca. 1990, Collection Roman Buxbaum. Camera constructed and used by Miroslav Tichy. Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean, Zurich (Switzerland)
Untitled n.d. Silver gelatine print pasted on card, blue crayon 19.8 x 11.8 cm Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne
Untitled n.d. Silver gelatine print pasted on card, pencil and felt-tip 21.7 x 15 cm Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne
Untitled n.d. Silver gelatine print, card, pencil, felt-tip and grease crayon 19 x 14 cm Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne
Untitled n.d. Silver gelatine print 18 x 11 cm Centre Pompidou, MusĂŠe National dâ€™Art Moderne
Untitled n.d. Silver gelatine print 19.3 x 10 cm Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean, Zurich (Switzerland) Photo: Jean-Claude Planchet, Centre Pompidou
Untitled n.d. Silver gelatine print pasted on card, paint and chalk, 37.2 x 26.4 cm Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean, Zurich (Switzerland) Photo: Jean-Claude Planchet, Centre Pompidou
Untitled n.d. Silver gelatine print mounted on card, 25.5 x 17 cm Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean, Zurich (Switzerland) Photo: Jean-Claude Planchet, Centre Pompidou
Untitled n.d. Silver gelatine print 18.1 x 13 cm Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean, Zurich (Switzerland) Photo: Jean-Claude Planchet, Centre Pompidou
Untitled n.d. Silver gelatine print, 13.2 x 19.2 cm Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean, Zurich (Switzerland) Photo: Jean-Claude Planchet, Centre Pompidou
Untitled n.d. Silver gelatine print mounted on card, pencil, paint, 16.1 x 21.9 cm Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean, Zurich (Switzerland) Photo: Jean-Claude Planchet, Centre Pompidou
Untitled n.d. Silver gelatine print mounted on card, pencil, paint, 16.7 x 22.3 cm Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean, Zurich (Switzerland) Photo: Jean-Claude Planchet, Centre Pompidou
Untitled n.d. Silver gelatine print mounted on card, 15.3 x 18.6 cm Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean, Zurich (Switzerland) Photo: Jean-Claude Planchet, Centre Pompidou
Untitled n.d. Silver gelatine print mounted on card and plastic, pencil, paint, 40 x 24.5 cm Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean, Zurich (Switzerland) Photo: Jean-Claude Planchet, Centre Pompidou
Untitled n.d. Silver gelatine print mounted on card, 29.4 x 16.4 cm Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean, Zurich (Switzerland) Photo: Jean-Claude Planchet, Centre Pompidou
Untitled n.d. Silver gelatine print, 11.9 x 7.4 cm Courtesy Foundation Tichy Ocean, Zurich (Switzerland) Photo: Jean-Claude Planchet, Centre Pompidou