Fotograf Magazine

Gianfranco Sanguinetti: Miroslav Tichý – Les Formes du Vrai / Forms of Truth. Kant, Prague 2010

The publishing house Kant has published a sizable book for the Prague exhibition of the work of Miroslav Tichý. It interestingly oscillates between a monograph and an apotheosis. The exhibition from the collections of Gianfranco Sanguinetti and his friends presented over 200 of Tichý’s photographs and several drawings in a relatively small space in the second floor of the Old Town Hall (which the Prague Gallery otherwise leases for exhibits of younger people). This was Tichý’s first ever independent exhibition in Prague, long after the extensive exhibitions in Zürich (2005), Brno (2006), Paris (2008) and New York (2010). The uniqueness of this exhibit lies in its very passion for collecting, which showed not just Tichý’s work, but also his capacity to bedevil his admirers. This time the space that is mostly dedicated to minimalist, postconceptual projects was fulfilled to the brim.
Gianfranco Sanguinetti was famous in the 1970s as a representative of the Italian branch of situationalism. Along with Guy Debord, he is famous for signing an act in 1972 terminating the activity of the Situationalist International group. He then became a harsh critic of Italian politics, earning himself persona non grata status in Italy. Since the 1990s, he has bounced back and forth between Prague and Tuscany, and has become an important collector of erotic art. Tichý of course is the ideal object for such a collection, as seen also in the book that Sanguinetti wrote as a distinctive honour to his beloved Master Artist.

In nineteen parts spread out over fifteen large pages of this book, Sanguinetti presents a wide depiction of his vision of Tichyfs life and work. The text itself is more of an apotheosis than an art science study; putting together an image of Tichyfs work and life from various, often even schizophrenic, sources and perceptions. His complete listing of cited persons alone is noteworthy: Giacomo Leopardi, Stendhal, William Shakespeare, Paganini, Edgar Wind, Goethe, Reiner Maria Rilke, Auguste Rodin, Epicurus, Marcel Duchamp, Michelangelo, Homer, Mario Giacomelli, de Sade, Plato, Jaroslav Ha.ek, Henry Miller, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Walter Benjamin, Joseph Brodsky, Christian Doppler, Denis Diderot, Dino Buzzati, G. W. F. Hegel, Montesquieu, Leonardo, Leon Battista Alberti, Wassily Kandinsky, Rafael Santi, Caravaggio, Luis Daguerre, Nicephore Niepce, Friedrich Holderlin, Giotto, Jacob Burckhardt, Pavel, Ladislav Klima, Meda Mladkova, Immanuel Kant, Jan Zabrana, and Franz Kafka.

Each part finishes with a summarizing sentence (“Herein lies the strength of Tichý’s work”, “This is why Tichý is now a classic”, “This is where the eloquence of Tichý’s symbols lies”). Thus, this form of scholastic manifest in its adoration misses its effect; several interesting insights, as well as rhetorical flaws, appear here however.

“Tichý’s art is the poetry of escape, in the jail-house sense of the word: an escape from society that suffocated him politically and humanly, an escape from its rigid rituals and obligatory holidays, an escape from the bothersome bureaucratic conformity forced upon society by the dictatorship,” writes Sanguinetti, attempting to describe the persona of Tichý as a secret revolutionary. One cannot help but agree. It is harder to agree with other metaphors, which Sanguinetti attributes to Tichý’s work. The climax is the so-called Tichý effect: “To bring this effect closer, I may borrow if you will one concept from physics, and I will state that in Tichý’s photographs, one may register a kind of Doppler Effect. (…) If you are on the street, the sound (of an ambulance) can seem to grow as the vehicle nears, and diminishes as it continues on past. And something similar appears, if we look at Tichý’s photography: the image “moves” towards us and sends out waves, which come to meet us, because the photography approaches us, and as we enter it, this wave strengthens and gains speed. Viewing these photographs, that is, never lets anybody remain indifferent, deaf, blind or immobile. The images move and they compel us to move too. Why? Because if not, they would run us over – like that ambulance.” Even weak knowledge of physics may aspire to a poetical argument.

Elsewhere, Sanguinetti is able to live in Tichý’s skin much better: “Tichý creates and freezes situations. Along his long psycho-geographic wanderings, during which he pulls out of context dozens of women per day, he is a situationalist photographer in the true sense of the word. (…) That is, as soon as we freely penetrate the world of women surprised by the photographer, we suddenly surprise ourselves by the fact that we are looking at a girl on the street and we perceive her beauty or the way she holds herself in the same scampish way, just as ravenously as Tichý. / And I call this the ’Tichý effect’“. As an expert in erotic art, Sanguinetti arrives at yet more interesting conclusions: “But there are other symbols to which Tichý returns with vitality, which Edgar Wind would describe as “ill-hearted aesthetics”, which thus “becomes an indelible component of the harmonic culture of the spirit”: these are ice cream and bicycles, as though by chance two things that closely touch those most intimate parts of the female body. (…) One more important symbol however can be found in Tichý’s photographs: the ever-present chain-link fence separating the photographer from the half-naked girls at the swimming pool. It is a symbol of a barrier both imaginary and entirely real, which Tichý overcomes only with the help of his camera – a barrier separating him from the object of his desire.”
Elsewhere, Sanguinetti poignantly describes Tichý’s work with melodic romanticism: “If Tichý had to endure six months of Stalinist-era imprisonment for this, he also had to have found that to be an “order for decency and politeness“. But it is nothing against those massive kidnappings of girls, which he constantly did with impunity in his town: the word kidnapping is used in a strictly situationalistic meaning of the word. He performed the most extensive kidnapping of Sabinas in modern history: each summer, day after day, he would capture one woman from Kjyov after another, from the labyrinth of the world he relocated them into the paradise of creation, and by such a Danteesque or biblical transfer, he assured them a certain immorality. Those socialist- era women in Kyjov became an integral part of Tichý’s epic. Because his work is epic. It is also charming in how well he expresses in his essay, About Women: “If we write about women, we must dip the quill into the soul and sprinkle the line with butterfly wings.’“

Sanguinetti’s fanatical writing from the book forms less of a monographic study and more a dialog between two mutually-complementary and exceptional personalities. Sanguinetti ends the entire text with a summarizing paragraph, where he admits the personal level of his writing and offers a rebuttal to Tichý’s “spectacular” acceptance: “Tichý’s art is so hard to grasp and digest that today it is customary to carefully talk around the subject than to speak of Tichý’s art as a so-called Tichý phenomenon. I wanted to avoid that entirely. In fact the current spectacle ranks among phenomena like a fish takes to water, because one can manipulate, create and harvest them as one sees fit. As someone who knew and loved Miroslav Tichý, I wanted to pay here my debt towards him and his art. / That is the reason for writing this text.

The total justification for the entire book lies primarily in the collector’s passion, for which, however, it is not possible to actually blame the author, if he openly admits it. In the labyrinth of Sanguinetti’s classicizing and politicizing references, Tichý may almost appear to be a classic artist, but I personally feel that his true uniqueness will be valued only in time, when his admirable influence and incalculable originality are fully reflected through further generations, and not via comatose classicists. Even so, I understand Sanguinetti’s loving passion.

Pavel Vančát