June 2010, Miroslav Tichy @ ICP and Howard Greenberg

Miroslav Tichý, Untitled, n.d.
Copyright Foundation Tichy Ocean

Miroslav Tichy: From the ICP to Howard Greenberg Gallery

1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036

Howard Greenberg Gallery

The Fuller Building
41 East 57th Street
Suite 1406
New York, NY 10022
June 17th through September 3rd, 2010

It is immediately certain that Miroslav Tichy’s oneiric photographs of women’s figures were created out of instinctive desire. His images exist first out of street voyeurism—the viewpoint of distance, of a watchful gaze, an obsessed gaze, manifest into a repetitive picture-collecting hobby. But this series of disarmingly haphazard, beautiful images goes beyond a leering appreciation of all shapes feminine —from a woman’s ankle to her shoulders, to her back and breasts. With these strange and stunning paintings, Tichy presents us with something quite pure; his unobstructed instinct symbolizes a freedom that lacks any blemish of self-aware timidity. There is something almost surreal about Tichy’s directness, perhaps because instinct itself is seldom the emphasis of contemporary art photography anymore. His images are unabashed in a way that allows one a sense of satisfaction, and even pleasure, in looking.

As part of an introduction to Tichy’s work recently on exhibition at the International Center for Photography, one was informed about his personal appearance and general behavior: the man was a bit of a ‘disturbing’ looking fellow, his clothing and hygiene deteriorated by the day, as did his mental capacities. It was made clear that Tichy was a conspicuous character in Prague’s socio-political context of the 1950s, but it was suggested these were deliberate acts of disregard for a status quo enforced by the authorities of the era. In other words, Tichy was presented as a rebel, and his photography, already more art than the hobby of a leering, derelict personality, along with his style of dress, were represented as a form of protest.

At Howard Greenberg gallery one can view a slightly different selection of Tichy’s works in a more intimate setting. Here, the artist is not portrayed so much as a rebel. Though he is noted to have spent several years in prison, he is paired alongside one of his contemporaries, Josef Sudek, for being representative of a specific mood of the Eastern Bloc years—an era described in the press release as full of ‘secrecy and ambiguity’. The two Czech photographers are brought together in the context of the soviet-controlled chapter they both witnessed their country survive. They are portrayed as reflections of the mysterious nature of a life that was sealed behind the Iron Curtain for so many years. Tichy’s pictures are almost exclusively his photographs of women—images he took discreetly with a home-made camera hidden underneath his clothes. They are incredibly sensual, while Sudek’s early work is displayed to further the aesthetic of light and shadow—that which is revealed and that which is hidden. The new show is called ‘Behind the Curtain’ – taking a less political approach than the titled might suggest and instead opting for an investigation of what the clandestine felt like from an aesthetic point of view.

Miroslav Tichý, Untitled, n.d.
Copyright Foundation Tichy Ocean

In his philosophical investigations The Poetics of Space Gaston Bachelard wrote that “metaphor gives concrete substance to an impression that is difficult to express.” No doubt the more subtle tensions resulting from the changes brought to Tichy’s country following the Czechoslovakian Communist Party’s coup d’état in 1948 and the executions of the Prague Trials in 1952 were impressions difficult to express—smaller daily losses and sorrows undocumented in comparison to the major socio-political upheaval. Tichy gave these intangibles representation through his photographs… he gave such emotional impressions ‘concrete substance’ --torn, stained, overexposed, and stepped on-- through his art. His work offers both simple beauty born out of instinct and then deliberate protest against the political oppression at the same time—a simultaneity that makes it stand out powerfully.

The outsider perspective of such a man like Tichy provides unique insight into the turmoil of an era— somehow, even as distant gallery-goers some fifty years later, we are successfully alienated by his viewpoint. And yet we are so moved we grasp a sense of what it was indeed like to live in such a suddenly oppressive society, and to feel such nostalgia for innocence and pleasure. We catch a glimpse of a simple desire for beauty in a world pre-occupied by power and progress, and most of all perhaps functionality. Tichy clearly preferred form over function, from the concentration given the curve of a woman’s back to his own appearance and dress, deliberately contrary to efficiency or obeisance.

It is good to see this kind of work given such a solo exhibition at the ICP and then immediately picked up by Howard Greenberg gallery —work residing in no category of image-making, not self-consciously conceptual or documentary, nor photojournalistic in totality, nor completely defined by the use of its own materials. Tichy is one of many artists whose motivations are born out of an immense diversity—and in his case he compulsively delivered images no matter whether someone would later view them or not. They are therefore sentimental even though they can have enormously obscure moments; Tichy’s form and content are extraordinary and refreshing.


All: Untitled, c. 1950s-1980s, unique gelatin silver print, printed c.1950s-1980s.
Copyright Foundation Tichy Ocean, courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery.

Miroslav Tichý’s Camera No.1
Photo Roman Buxbaum

Sabine Mirlesse

Sabine Mirlesse is a photographer and visual artist currently living and working in Paris. She is a recent graduate of the MFA Photography and Related Media program at Parsons the New School for Design in New York City and has written for The Paris Review and BOMB Magazine in addition to the NY edition of Whitehot. Contact her at info@sabinemirlesse.com or at her website


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