Critics' Picks: Miroslav Tichý

Britany Salsbury, Artforum, August 14, 2011

With their soft focus and voyeuristic viewpoint, the untitled photographs by the late Miroslav Tichý seen in this exhibition immediately recall the long art-historical legacy of the female bather. Adapted by artists as venerable as Ingres, Degas, and Cézanne, this motif has long served as a vehicle for objectification. Tichý’s images push such eroticism beyond the confines of artistic practice and its reliance on professional models; his work depicts actual women seen by the artist at a Czechoslovakian pool from the 1950s to the ’80s. For much of Tichý’s career, he was viewed primarily as an eccentric in his small town, and he became known for the homemade, crudely built camera he used to photograph unsuspecting women in public places. His deliberately primitive printing process, combined with subsequent defilement of some works through creasing or scratching prints and roughly matting them on discarded paper, produced a deliberately artless style that aligned with his fervent disavowal of socialist realism’s polish during the postwar years.

 

The political subtext of Tichý’s intentionally amateurish style suggests a more complex reading for the disturbing candor of his bather images. In each photograph, the heavy grid of the fence surrounding the pool figures prominently into the composition. In one work, for instance, the subject is covered entirely by the chain-link structure, which is also visible behind her. This suggestion of enclosure is enhanced by her position; the picture is cropped tightly around her body, and the dark tones that outline the left corners imply an intrusion into her space. Combined with the surveillant position of the viewer, this formal constriction suggests an absolute lack of volition that would have been particularly resonant in Eastern Europe at this historical moment, adding further allusion to the inherently disturbing motif.

 

Original Publication