On 12 April 2011, Miroslav Tichy died at the age of 85. Below is re-post of our May 2010 text on him. An homage.

For several years, the work of Miroslav Tichý has galvanized the contemporary art world. He popped up on the radar at the 2004 Seville Biennial, when he was 78. The eminently authoritative Harald Szeemann curated the show, and his endorsement was all it took to convince the art market and institutions: over the following six years, Tichý’s photos appeared in no less than forty individual or group shows in Zurich, Stockholm, Frankfurt, Beijing, Paris and now New York, where a vast retrospective has just closed at the International Center of Photography (ICP). The image-rich catalogue boasts particularly stunning reproductions. A 2008 catalogue accompanying the show at Paris’ Pompidou Center pales by comparison, its brilliant texts unable to offset the lackluster printing.

Tichý’s work was discovered in the early1980s by Roman Buxbaum*, a psychiatrist and “outsider art” specialist who, although a Swiss resident, hailed from the same small Moravian town as Tichý. Buxbaum began collecting the works and including them in “outsider art” shows, where Szeemann, who harbored a deep interest in this field, ultimately discovered them. In the French magazine Etudes photographiques, Marc Lenot, author of the blog Lunettes Rouges, provides an excellent analysis of the “invention” of Miroslav Tichý and the intellectual strategies that hurtled him first into the field of “outsider art,” then more successfully into that of contemporary art. Clearly, Tichý has the stuff to seduce the market, art institutions and critics: a fine arts background, unique works, a coherent corpus built on an obsessive pursuit, and a resounding fit with other contemporary practices.

Tichý enrolled in Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts in 1945. The communist takeover in 1948 dashed any hopes of an artistic career, and Tichý was sent off to military service. Deeply disturbed and visibly transformed by this episode, he returned to live with his parents. In the mid-1950s, between two bouts of depression, Tichý started experimenting with photography, all the while slipping deeper into personal disarray. His unruly beard and tattered clothes made him a walking slap-in-the-face to the communist ideal. Meanwhile, he concocted his own cameras from cardboard and jars, fashioning makeshift lenses to match. From the 1960s, he photographed obsessively (up to 100 images per day) a single subject – women. In the streets, in parks, at the pool – Tichý mercilessly stalked down the female residents of Kyjov.  He snapped the backside of a woman adjusting her shoe, a group of swimsuit-clad sunbathers, a woman getting dressed, a park bench conversation, a kiss. As if this were not enough, Tichý also re-shot pin-ups from “girly” magazines and actresses on his TV screen, vaguely resembling Marilyn Monroe or Elisabeth Taylor.

Then, in a darkroom as crudely DIY as his cameras, he selectively developed his catch. Occasionally he cut the photographic paper into triangles (a pubic stand-in?) and highlighted the dried-off prints with a pen, underscoring varying body parts.  He even devised hand-adorned frames out of cardboard. The photos were then abandoned in a courtyard or on the edge of a table, left to deteriorate under the elements or whatever domestic accidents might befall them.

Tichý’s work fascinates for the strength of its successive impulses.  Desire grows, set within a meticulous process (the hunt, the photographic development, appropriation by manually drawing on the image) and ultimately depletes (the images are discarded), only to return again the next day. The photos themselves attract — the infinite variation around a single theme, the eeriness due to the low-grade material, and their scarification by time. Yet they hold within them a treasure trove of other recognizable photos. In his flamboyant preface to the ICP catalogue Miroslav Tichý, Richard Prince unveils these photographic references, which were surely far from Tichý’s mind at work, but easily identifiable by contemporary viewers: Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Kohei Yoshiyuki’s sex scenes in The Park, Carlo Molino’s polaroids of women, the photographic work of Sigmar Polke or the collection of women’s knees by Hans Peter Feldmann. For the record, one could add Paul-Armand Gette, or the nurses and various girls next door of Richard Prince himself.

* His explanations feature in Miroslav Tichý: Tarzan Retired, a re-worked version of a text from the Pompidou Center catalogue.


English translation by Kevin Jones

Miroslav Tichý, ICP and Steidl, canvas binding, 328 pages.


Site of the Tichy Foundation run by Roman Buxbaum.

ICP and Steidl sites.

The article by Marc Lenot, L’invention de Miroslav Tichý in Etudes photographiques. His review of the show at the Pompidou Center. (in French)

Some photos by Tichý here.

Two further links suggested by Marc Lenot : the official site of Tichý created by his neighbor and beneficiary, and a film highlighting a different point of view than Roman Buxbaum’s.

Karen Rosenberg’s New York Times review of the ICP show.

Review in AnOther Mag of the current Miroslav Tichý show at London’s Wilkinson Gallery (until 5 June 2011).

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