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Marc Lenot on Miroslav Tich

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The Critical Reception of Miroslav Tich


By Marc Lenot

In the Zephyr Gallery of Contemporary Photography, housed within the Reiss-Engelhorn


Museum in Mannheim, theres an exhibition of the photographs Miroslav Tich (until 26
May).[1] It presents Tichs unpublished photographs; they are unpublished because, unlike
those exhibited in the majority of preceding expositions, they do not come from the Tich
Ocen Foundation. Many of these photographs are more intimate, more personal, than the
others. But the work of the exhibitions curator, Thomas Schirmbck, and those who have
accompanied him in this adventure (myself included), have permitted one to write an account
of Tich, one based upon real research work and interviews, that is quite different from the
clichs circulated until now. Unfortunately, the catalogue is only available in German. With
the agreement of the Kehrer publishing house, which I thank, I publish here in three parts
the original version (written in French) of my contribution to that catalogue, but without the
bibliographical notes (the substantive ones appear herein as footnotes).
An Unsuccessful Attempt at Formatting a Discourse
If you want to be famous, you must do something worse than anyone else in the entire
world (Miroslav Tich)
An artist is suddenly discovered, invented, propelled to the front of the stage; exhibitions, books and
critics contribute to his renown, and the market follows suit. Little by little, a discourse is created around
him, elaborated, by curators, authors of catalogues, critics, professional newspaper writers and bloggers,
and, finally, to a lesser extent, by historians and university scholars. The goal of this essay is to analyze the
reception of the works of Miroslav Tich in these different circles since his abortive debut in 1989-1990,
but especially since his appearance in the world of contemporary art from the end of 2004 until today.
This analysis aims at identifying the dominant and normative discourse that has essentially determined
this discovery, as well as locating the other discourses that, either due to poetry or distrust, rigor or
distance, have distanced themselves from that norm, at first in slightly eccentric milieus and then by more
experienced authors. This analysis will develop in three phases: first, the construction of the discourse
about the artist; then its formatting; and finally his liberation from it.
1. The Discourse in the Process of Construction:
Between outsider art [art brut] and contemporary art
The first appearance of Miroslav Tich in the world of art if one excepts the infrequent exhibitions of his
paintings in Czechoslovakia when he was young (of which Milan Chlumsky speaks in his essay) was in
1989, under the auspices of Roman Buxbaum, a Czech psychiatrist based in Zurich who had discovered
Tichs works several years previously during a trip to Kyjov, where the artist and members of the
psychiatrists family lived. At the time, Buxbaums discourse was very clear and marked by his profession
and his interest in art-based therapy (which he practiced in his Knigsfelden clinic in Zurich) and outsider
art (he gave presentations at the Institute of Art History at the University of Zurich on the art made by
mentally ill patients). This discourse appeared clearly in the note that Buxbaum drafted for the first
exhibition of Mirek Tichs photographs in Cologne[2] as part of an exposition of outsider art titled Von
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Marc Lenot on Miroslav Tich

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einer Wellt zur Andern (From One World to Another, a dialectical expression coined by the Germanspeaking Swiss outsider-artist Adolf Wlfli). Four of the six curators of this exposition were psychiatrists.
[3] Buxbaum wrote a long introduction about art and psychiatry, as well as eight of the thirty one-pagelong notes about each of the artists (including the note about Tich). In that introduction, as well as in the
three-page-long article that Buxbaum had published a year earlier in the Bild und Seele (Image and
Soul) special issue of Kunstforum, Tich is presented as an integral part of outsider art, as an outsider,[4]
a marginal. Emphasis was placed on his physical appearance and his hair and clothing, on the shack in
which he lived, his handmade equipment and his entanglements with the authorities. Due to his
photographic practices (which had no counterpart in outsider art) and his studies at the Prague Art
Academy (which were supposedly incompatible with the status of outsider-artist), he was also presented
as a marginal among the marginals (Ein Auenseiter unter den Auenseitern), but the content of the
discourse was still clear and incontrovertible when it came to Tichs status as an outsider-artist. That
status conformed to the customary schema of such an artist: a psychiatrist with an interest in art[5]
discovers an artist who is ill but a genius, whom the doctor describes as a caveman. To make it work,
Buxbaum placed the emphasis on the man and his equipment, thereby only presenting a partial version of
the context in which he evolved (insisting on the psychiatric and police-related repression from which
Tich had suffered and minimizing any information that could, on the contrary, demonstrate his belonging
to a circle of artistic friends and Moravian intellectuals), neglecting his artistic education (incompatible
with purist definitions of outsider art) and minimizing the importance of his processes and subjects.[6]
One can hardly speak of a critical reception of this first exposition, which with the exception of an
important review in the widely-read journal Stern, in which the journalist Christian Krug presented eight
mentally ill artists (five of whom had had their works displayed in the From One World to Another
exhibition) under the title The Art of the Mentally Ill: Images from a Cuckoos Nest seems to have
had little impact. In the straight line of the expositions discourse, these artists, and Tich in particular,
were strange: under the title Einsam (Loner),[7] Tich appeared in a two-page photograph taken by
Hans-Jrg Anders; in it, he looked hairy, bearded, and dirty, and he was holding one of his homemade
cameras; a miniscule reproduction of one of his photographs was relegated to a corner of one of the pages.
Of the eight artists, Tich (and Johann Hauser, depicted playing with a childs doll) appeared to the most
bizarre, and his photographs were the most neglected (the majority of the other artists had one of their
works reproduced on a full-page). One preferred to display his tool instead of his photographs, thus
putting the emphasis on the person instead of his work. The extent of the coverage (twenty pages, trips
taken by the journalist and the photographer to the residences of each of the eight artists) showed the
magazines interest in the subject, but this interest remained purely journalistic, simple reporting with a
light perfume of voyeuristic oddness, without the least critical distance or even any analysis.
For the next fourteen years, despite Buxbaums efforts to make Tichs works known, nothing happened:
neither an exposition nor an article in the press appeared. The introduction of Tich into the heart of
outsider art had failed; the myth had not taken. The seminal exhibition that first recognized photography
as an integral part of outsider art, Create and Be Recognized,[8] held in San Francisco in 2004, didnt
include Tich, even though an authority in matters of outsider art, Roger Cardinal inspired by
Buxbaums essay of 1989 in Kunstforum, which was his only source of information about Tich had
mentioned him in his essay Outsider Photography,[9] which was part of the exhibition catalogue, and
had (on page 16) even reproduced one of Tichs photographs. Significantly, Cardinal placed his emphasis
on Tichs illicit eroticism, and kept the photographer in the field of myth, even in the field of magic,
but outside the doors of the museum and the universe of contemporary art.
Between 1990 and 2004, Tichs works fell back into oblivion and were not recognized artistically. The
emphasis placed on the constitutive parameters of the outsider art schema a marginal existence,
singular equipment and resistance to a repressive political context was revealed to be inadequate. The
minimization of his apprenticeship didnt allow his inscription as an artist in the filiations of art history;
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the lack of attention to his methods dispossessed him of all conceptual interest; and the lack of emphasis
on the subjects of his pictures deprived his work of much interest. His specificity as a pioneer of outsider
photography wasnt enough to generate sustained attention by the art world. He himself withdrew from it.
Confronted with Tichs reluctance, the positioning of him on the field of outsider art had ended in an
impasse. The impotence of this schema to create either critical or economic value was patent.
In the spring of 2004, Tobia Bezzola, curator at the Kunsthaus in Zurich, drew the attention of Harald
Szeemann[10] (Bezzola had been Szeemanns assistant between 1993 and 1995) to Miroslav Tichs
photographs, which he had discovered by chance in the storehouse of the Judin Gallery, where Buxbaum
had placed them. Szeemann decided to include Tich among the sixty-two artists whose works would be
shown at the Sville Biennale of 2004, thus bringing him into the ground floor of contemporary art. In
both his short appearance in Buxbaums film and in the lines of his short introductory text in the
Biennales exhibition catalogue, Szeemann puts emphasis on the complexity of Tichs methods, which
were irreducible to the limited definitions of either nave or outsider[11] art, on the importance of his
methods and his transgression of the rules, and on his ambivalence concerning reality and illusion. This
radical change in discourse found in the note on Tich in the Sville exhibition catalogue, which was
authored by Hans-Joachim Mller,[12] tells a story that is quite different than that of outsider art, given
that it makes the subject matter the female body, obsessively photographed[13] the central element of
the narrative, doesnt minimize Tichs apprenticeship or his passage through the Beaux-Arts, and
examines his creative processes, all the while recognizing the absolute impossibility of categorizing them.
[14] This opening of the discourse liberated Tich from reductive confinement in outsider art (both
Szeemann and Mller use the term nave) and made possible an opening for critical discourse about his
works, which were henceforth regarded as entirely unique works of art, with their shadowy zones, creative
mysteries and genius.
The best example of this opening up of the discourse about Tich is the text that Marta Gili, then the head
of the photography department at Caixa, wrote after having seen his photographs at the Judin Gallerys
booth at the ARCO fairgrounds in Madrid in February 2005. Titled To Love, No More, No Less, her
text put the emphasis on the relationship between the artist and his models, on the tensions between
desire and its representation, between love and its frustration, and, finally, between life and death, and on
the representation of desire as a means to lighten the suffering that it provokes. Thus she privileged the
sensitivity of his glance in his methods, rather than the narrative of his marginality. She was the one who
in July 2005 proposed that Tich win the Arles Discovery Prize for Photographic Encounters, which he
(then 78 years old) did in fact win, thanks to the votes of the professionals associated with the jury.
Following two exhibitions of Tichs works in photography galleries in New York and Berlin in the spring
of 2005, several articles appeared in the press (Stern, Die Zeit, The New York Times, and The New Yorker)
and several blogs. Adam Soboczynskis article in Die Zeit was particularly indicative of the change that
was taking place: he told the story of the visit to Tichs place by the Berlin-based gallery owner Mathias
Arndt, made under the auspices of Buxbaum, who furnished explanations and a narrative; but Tich
withdrew, not without some ambiguity. With respect to the exhibition and sale of his photographs, Ich
habe die nicht freigegeben. Roman hat mir die Bilder abgenommen. Ich habe damit nichts zu tun. (I did
not give my approval. Roman simply took them. I had nothing to do with it.)
In fact, Roman Buxbaum, through the Tich Ocen Foundation,[15] which he had set up in Lichtenstein,
was in possession of the vast majority of Tichs photographs and pieces of equipment, and, with great
energy, successfully took on the promotion and commercialization of his works. Exhibitions were
organized, all or almost all of them under his auspices and with his participation, and Tichs popularity
grew. With these ends in mind, Buxbaum worked to normalize the discourse about Tich, and, after 2005,
made his discourse about Tich the dominant one, even if other, divergent discourses were quietly
emerging.
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Marc Lenot on Miroslav Tich

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2. The Formatted Discourse: The Mythical Beautiful Story of Miroslav Tich


In the first museum catalogue devoted to Tich, published on the occasion of an exhibition of his
photographs at the Kunsthaus Zurich, the most important text (18.5 pages long, published in German) was
written by Roman Buxbaum and titled Miroslav Tich, Tarzan in Pension (Miroslav Tich, Tarzan in
Retirement). Amended and revised versions of this text would later appear in almost all of the catalogues
published on the occasion of exhibitions of Tichs photographs: at the Taka Ishii Gallery in Tokyo in
2007 (26 pages in English and 24 pages in Japanese); at the Beijing Art Now[16] Gallery in Beijing and
then in Shanghai in 2007 and 2008 (12 pages in Chinese and 16 pages in English); at the Pompidou
Centre in Paris in 2008 (9 pages in French); at the International Center of Photography[17] (ICP) in New
York in 2010 (8 pages in English); and at the Moscow House of Photography in Moscow in 2012 (22
pages in Russian). This text also appeared in several books about Tich: the one published by the Torst
publishing house in Prague in 2006 (17 pages in English, 14 pages in Czech); the one published by the
Walther Knig publishing house in Cologne in 2008 (26 pages in English); and, of course, in the one
published by the Tich Ocen Foundation in 2006, in which it was almost the only essay (17 pages in
English).
To demonstrate the omnipresence of this discourse: a quick count shows that, in the ten essential
publications (the nine already mentioned, plus the book by Sanguinetti, to which I will return), Buxbaums
text represents 55 percent of the critical remarks, 210 pages out of a total of 378 (not including
biographies, bibliographies, title pages, tables of content, colophons, etc.). Except for the catalogues
published by the two most important institutions (the Pompidou Centre and the ICP, in which its weight
is the lightest: 29 and 25 percent of the total, respectively), Buxbaums text is always the longest of the
essays, sometimes by far (almost 90 percent of the Chinese and Japanese catalogues). I believe that this is
a unique example of the discourse on an artist being dominated by a single author.
If one extends the analysis to all of the books devoted to Tich (not counting group shows), Buxbaums
text represents 45 percent of the entirety (215 pages out of a total of 472). In fact, a shorter text by
Buxbaum two pages long in English and German, and three pages long in English and Czech also
appears in the catalogues for Artists for Tich Tich for Artists,[18] exhibited in Passau, Germany, and
Brno, the Czech Republic, respectively, in 2006.
The only catalogues in which Buxbaums text does not appear were either small volumes (published on
the occasion of exhibitions at Magasin 3 Museet in Stockholm in 2008, the Douglas Hyde Gallery in
Dublin in 2008, and the Gallery Pascal Polar in Brussels in 2012) or catalogues published on the occasion
of group shows (at the Fotomuseum in The Hague in 2010-2011 and the Artibus Foundation in Ekens,
Finland, in 2006). And of course it didnt appear in the catalogue for the exhibition by Gianfranco
Sanguinetti in Prague in 2010-2011, to which we will return.[19]
How should we interpret the omnipresence of Buxbaums discourse in publications about Tich? First of
all, it indicates the extensive promotion of Tichs works that Roman Buxbaum has undertaken. For all the
curators, he is the holder of these works, an obligatory point of passage, and it seems difficult to them to
mount an exhibition that doesnt have the support of the Tich Ocen Foundation (and yet that was
precisely what the MMK in Frankfurt, Pavel Vant in Brno, Kyjov and Krakow, and Sanguinetti in
Prague managed to do). One could almost say that dealing with Buxbaum provides the curators with an
everything-included package[20] that is intended to facilitate their work: Tichs photographs and
camera equipment, on loan from the Foundation, as well as Buxbaums text (and the film that he made).
But this omnipresence also and especially indicates the need for a beautiful story that allows the visitor
and reader to gain access to Tichs works, which are supposed to be uninteresting or incomprehensible
without this narrative mediation.[21] In it one finds all the incantatory ingredients by which to construct a
fascinating mythology: suffering and repression under Communism; the marginality of the anti-hero; and
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the proximity to mental illness. And this beautiful story has often played a seductive, if not an
anesthetizing role: everyone or almost everyone even the author of these lines has let himself be taken
in by it, hardly questioning the tableau painted by Buxbaum because it seems so clear, coherent and
attractive; everyone or almost everyone has at first taken it as a revealed truth; everyone or almost
everyone has succumbed to how easy it is. Certainly each person has kept in mind that Buxbaums
discourse also has an important legitimizing and self-justifying function that gives the best role to the
discoverer; to the benevolent promoter of the mans works; to the one who has been very close to the
photographer ever since Tich taught little Roman, the nephew of his best friend, to take a photograph
using a pinhole camera; to the one who took care of Tich in his old age and helped him financially. At the
same time, the facts that Tich didnt want to speak or show himself, nor to exhibit or sell his works,
seems to construct a counter-myth that allows him to remain, indifferently negligent, at the margins of his
success, just as he had been at the margins of the Communist system. As a result, in the vacuum that was
thus created, no one had the information, knowledge or facts (or not enough of them) to dare to doubt or
question the beautiful story. It was a very coherent and skillfully orchestrated construction.
It is certain that an attentive and polyglot reader could compare the nine different versions of Buxbaums
text and see within them an evolution towards more [self-] legitimatization, as well as several internal
contradictions. For example: the episode of Tichs imprisonment, which is mentioned in the film (2004)
and the Zurich version of the text (2005), subsequently disappears, no doubt as because reports about it
were too unreliable. On the other hand, Tichs refusal to be considered as an outsider-artist (thus
undermining the approach proposed in 1989-1990) only appears after the book published by Walther
Knig (end of 2008) and does so with a reference[22] to Files from the psychiatrist clinic in Opava,[23]
even though these same files, cited by the Pompidou catalogue several months earlier, appeared to say
nothing about this subject. But lacking other sources, one could hardly go deeper and engage in serious
historical research (which can be partially done today due to the testimonies collected for the current
exposition and presented in its catalogue). Moreover, Buxbaum took great care to disarm possible
criticisms by specifying that he wasnt writing an academic overview of his works because he didnt
have the required objectivity and was quite incapable of it; he was only writing a subjective history.
This subjective history also allowed Buxbaum to explain why Tich refused to participate in exhibitions
of his works and receive [visits from] representatives from the world of art,[24] and why Buxbaum
himself was the only possible intermediary, which was something that he, in response to criticisms,
explained at great length in a pro domo[25] declaration made in the next-to-last version of his text, which
was published in the ICP catalogue.
If we now examine the other writings about Tich, whether they are catalogue essays or articles in the
press, we can distinguish several types of reactions: texts that are inspired by the beautiful story and
expanded upon it; texts that returned Tich to the perspective of the art history and contextualized his
works, without being too preoccupied with that story; and infrequent texts, which became more numerous
after 2010, that put that story into question and did real research into and offered independent reflection
upon Tichs work. (We will return to the last of the three types in the third part of this essay.)
The first type principally includes Anglo-Saxon critics and curators[26] (I do not understand the reason
for this correlation): Carolyn Christov-Bakargievs essay The Artist with the Bad Camera (reprinted
four times: in the book published by Walther Knig, the ICP catalogue, the Pascal Polar catalogue, which
translated it into French, and the MAM catalogue, which translated it into Russian) applies her own
aesthetic and critical interpretive lens [grille de lecture] on the basis of the formatted narrative. Brian
Wallis does the same in the ICP catalogue by putting the emphasis on the mysteries of everyday life and
adopting all the points of view suggested by Buxbaums text (and thus including several inaccuracies).
Tessa Praum (Magasin 3) hardly distinguishes herself by comparing Tich to Julia Margaret Cameron,[27]
nor does Yonit Aramowitz (The Hague Fotomuseum) when she questions the relationship of Tich (and
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Gerard Fieret and Anton Heyboer)[28] to women. One could have a similar reading of more poetical
essays, such as the one written by the artist Richard Prince and published in the ICP catalogue or my own
semi-fictional address to Tich, which was published in the Pompidou Centres catalogue. All of these
texts, which are of varying quality and interest, easily subscribe to the mythology of Tich created by
Buxbaum: in the case of Gisela Steinlechner, they go as far as canonizing it.[29]
Many of the texts about Tich, which in general come from art historians and curators rather than critics,
attempt to inscribe his work in history by constructing a cultural legitimacy for him, instead of being
principally preoccupied with his personal history. It was Tobia Bezzola who, in Zurich, first compared
Tichs works with those of the great painters of nudes (his essay was titled Der Meister der weiblichen
Halbfigur[30]) and, as he says, he was the first to demonstrate that this perverse bum [Tich] was in fact
a great artist. Then there were the two curators at the Pompidou Centre who did real historians work:
Clment Chroux situated Tich within the amateur aesthetic, alongside Sigmar Polke, Diane Arbus and
foto povera.[31] Quentin Bajac analyzed the critical reception of Tich up to 2008, and compared it to the
reception of Atget and Lartigue, placing his emphasis (in an original way) on Tichs proximity to
surrealism (territories of surprise, spectral eroticism, automatisms, revelation of a world to be discovered)
and his relationship with protest or, rather, marginal art in Eastern Europe. Using the works of Walter
Benjamin, Roland Barthes and Georg Simmel, Fatima Naqvi eloquently developed a more philosophical
conception of the amateur. In the book published by Torst, Pavel Vant had already begun to question the
dominant discourse (Upon closer inspection Tich is not what he might appear to be at first sight[32]),
to be interested in Tichs pictorial works, to study his circle of friends, and to define it [Tichs oeuvre]
as conceptual lyric. Clint Burnham (published by Walther Knig) linked Tich to the Beatnik[33]
movement (to William S. Burroughs, in particular) and pictorialism. I might also mention here two of my
own texts: one about the invention of the artist that appeared in the journal tudes Photographiques,[34]
in which I try to analyze in a critical way the manner in which Tich has been presented to the art world,
first in the framework of outsider art, then within contemporary art; and one about the inscription of Tich
in the line of the flneurs, drifting and vagabondage (this essay first appeared in English in the book
published by Walther Knig and then, slightly revised, in French in the catalogue published by Pascal
Polar). I might also mention the text on Tichs samurai filiations that was also published by Pascal
Polar and the essay by Ianthe Bato and Myrte Langevoord (published by the Fotomuseum in The Hague)
that definitively differentiated Tich from outsider art, as well as from Fieret and Heyboer. Finally, the text
by Shunji It, published in the Japanese catalogue (it has never been translated into English because
Buxbaum found it shocking), attempted a psychoanalytic approach to Tichs desire and sexuality. The
essays in this second group, which, in general, are more solidly written than those in the first one,
constitute a foundation for the study of Tich. (It should be noted that, except for my EHESS dissertation,
[35] it seems that there has been very little properly scholarly work on the subject.[36]) If these essays
have only been moderately inspired by Buxbaums discourse and have neglected it in their analyses, they
have, nevertheless, tacitly accepted his mythology, which they only question in a very marginal way. Their
principal objective is to place Tich on equal footing with the artists to whom they compare him, to make
him an artist like the others, a peer [un pair] and not a marginal.
If we consult the press and the blogs, we essentially find informative articles about Tich; even the
majority of those who make critical judgments based themselves on the standard narrative discourse. Of
course, this is the case with Buxbaums article in Modern Painters[37]; with my blogged article (I too was
captivated by his beautiful story) that reviewed the exhibitions in Zurich[38] and at the Pompidou
Centre[39]; with the majority of the articles in the international press, among which there were (among
others) Barry Schwabsky in Artforum, Andrea Rizzi in El Pais, Tsuzuki Kyoichi in ARTiT, Joanna Pitman
in The Times, Brigitte Ollier in Libration, Geoff Dyer in The Guardian, and Karen Rosenberg in The New
York Times. (One could easily double or triple the entries in this list of references to Tich.)
Nevertheless, starting from 2006, certain bloggers begin to express doubts about Buxbaums formatted
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discourse and even about Tichs very existence. Between 17 May[40] and 24 June 2006,[41] Sarah
Wichlacz was perhaps the first to question the veracity of this discourse in response to a commentary by
Brian Tjepkema,[42] a young, marginal, Canadian artist who had known Tich well and presented himself
as his disciple, thus allowing a different discourse about the photographer to emerge. The blogger Barnaby
Bretton relayed these very questions in an article published on 27 June 2006,[43] which elicited a
commentary from Tjepkema[44] that asked Bretton to consider Tich as an artist and not as a marginal or
a voyeur, and that questioned certain historical elements, such as the eight years he supposedly spent in
prison. In an even more radical fashion, Glenn Ruga, in an article titled Tich: The Unabomber of
Photography[45] and published on the website of the 2010 New York Photo Festival[46] on 3 April
2010, questioned the creation of Tich as an artist, alleged that he was the pure mythical construction of
the curators of the International Center of Photography, and declared that he was neither a genius, an artist
nor a great photographer.
As for the reality of Tichs very existence, and the possibility that Buxbaum had fraudulently invented a
false artist, some have had their suspicions. According to Pavel Vant, this was the case following the
Zurich exhibition of 2005. Subsequently, the very serious Stuart Alexander, Vice-President of the
Photography Department at Christies in New York, posted the following comment[47] to the blog called
5b4 on 28 July 2007: Tichs work is so good, so unlikely, and so much controlled by Buxbaum that I
sometimes have wondered whether or not his entire photographic oeuvre might not be an invention of
Buxbaum.[48] The hypothesis of a hoax was also raised by a broadcast from Paris on Radio Libertaire on
12 July 2008 and repeated on the blog of one of the participants in the broadcast, Philippe Jalabert.[49]
This possibility had also crossed the minds of some curators (for example, Quentin Bajac, who,
confronted with the omnipresence of Buxbaum and the invisibility of Tich, admits that he posed the
question of a possible fraud during preparations for the exhibition at the Pompidou Centre) and artists
familiar with such practices, such as Joan Fontcuberta. If no one questions Tichs existence any more,
these reactions were symptomatic of a certain emancipation of the discourse with respect to the formatting
that had been imposed during the years in which Tich was being discovered.
3. The Liberated Discourse: A Multi-Faceted Truth
No doubt the first thing that disturbed the beautiful, mythological schema constructed by Buxbaum was
Worldstar,[50] the film by the German-Czech director, Nataa von Kopp, released in 2006. This director
had spent a great deal of time with Tich, who had taken her into his confidence. Her film is, above all, the
portrait of a poetic and creative old man who is confronted with the intrusion of a world that he doesnt
want. Unlike Buxbaums film, hers is a friendly and tender treatment, and not an attempt to construct a
myth. Several times, Tich firmly declares that he doesnt want any exhibitions of his works.[51] The
idyllic story of the benevolent discoverer and his protg cracks open when Tich denies that he gave his
photographs to Buxbaum. From where does he [Mathias Arndt] get the photos? Tich asks. Those that
you gave to me, Buxbaum replies. I gave nothing to you, Tich retorts. And then, at the end, Tich
declares, I am happy that Romans not coming anymore.[52]
In fact, the relationship between the two men has irremediably deteriorated. Buxbaum and his
collaborators became persona non grata to Tich, who designated his neighbor, Jana Hebnarov as his
agent and universal legatee. (She had taken care of him for years before that.) A polemic began
concerning the owner of the copyright[53] to the photographs and the legitimacy of speaking in Tichs
name. Before becoming a matter for the courts, this polemic was conducted on the websites[54] of the two
parties in front of the entire world. While Tich had been withdrawn his entire life, clearly expressing
himself but not wanting to become involved in legal action, the conflict seems to have worsened since his
death on 12 April 2011.
Beyond these quite sickening incidents concerning Tich, a different discourse began to emerge, one less
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dependent on the [personal] history of the artist (a marginal, persecuted, and then suddenly discovered),
one less mythological and more analytical and distant. I myself[55] made a small contribution by
analyzing the invention of [the mythology surrounding] Tich, the objective criteria for his discovery, and
the withdraw of the artist when he was faced with success. In the same way, the Czech curator Pavel
Vant who organized an exhibition in Krakow that set Tichs photographs within the pictorial context
of Czechoslovakia in the 1960s and 1970s completed background work on his works, his influences and
his anchoring in the history of art. One could also mention here the long article in The Nation by Jana
Prikryl,[56] written on the occasion of the exhibition at the International Center of Photography. In it, the
author denounces the simplification of the discourse about Tich.
Several authors had already broken away from the dominant discourse to propose a more independent
vision, one that was less dependent on the personal history of Tich. This was the case with authors who
were also artists (as one could no doubt expect), such as the photographer David Bailey, the painter
Jrmy Liron,[57] and the writer Vincent Gille,[58] each of whom have expressed a very personal and
delicate vision of Tichs works without being too preoccupied with the narration of his history. There
have always been a very few articles that, without necessarily challenging the beautiful story, have done
true critical work on the subject of Tichs photographs. Here one might cite Clint Burhams article in
Camera Austria, which places Tich in the landscape of contemporary photography; the blogger Olivier
Beuvelet,[59] who links Tich to Czanne and Impressionism; and R. Wayne Parsons,[60] who, in the
pages of The New York Photo Review, asked if one should do a Faulkner,[61] that is to say, if one should
get rid of the prejudices generated by this beautiful history and only be interested in Tichs works.
This growing autonomy of the discourse in the face of the myth of the beautiful story finally manifested
itself in a resounding way with the exhibition in Prague organized by Gianfranco Sanguinetti at the end of
2010. Its catalogue was the first work on the subject to adopt a literary and empathetic approach to Tich
and his works. Sanguinettis text, Forms of Truth,[62] returned six years later to the inspired
emphases of Hans-Joachim Mller and Marta Gili. Initially written as a personal address to Tich, it
unfolded over 15 pages in 19 paragraphs, each one ending in an instance of incantatory litany: In this lies
is the strength of Tichs work; In this lies the beauty of Tichs work; In this lies the universality of
Tichs work; then the rigor, the defiant challenge, the revolution of the aura, the eloquence . . . [63] One
of the most eloquent paragraphs was, no doubt, the fifteenth, which, concluding with the phrase This is
why Tichs art is best appreciated by the person who is not a professional critic, reproached critics for
being too frequently depilated or deodorized, which is not what Tichs women are, just as his
photographs are, in Sanguinettis words, musty-smelling.[64] This vigorous and inspired text spoke of
pleasure and freedom, of the poetry of evasion and scandal, and concluded with these words: Tichs art
is so awkward to get a grip on and understand that today people prefer to carefully sidestep the issue and
talk about the Tich phenomenon rather than about Tichs art. This is what I absolutely wanted to avoid
doing. The all-prevailing spectacle of today is only in its element among phenomena because its can
manipulate them, produce them and harvest them at will. Having come to know and like Miroslav Tich
well, with this text I simply want to repay the debt of acquaintance towards the man and his art.[65] It
was precisely this situationist[66] refusal of the phenomenalization of Tich[67] that founded the new
critical dimension of this essential text. Another critical approach that is worthy of interest and just as
anti-mythological was Gilles Rouffineau's contribution to the collection of essays entitled Minor
Photography: Connecting Deleuze and Guattari to Photography Theory.[68] Rouffineau established a
parallel between the minor photography of Tich and the minor literature of Kafka, which Deleuze
and Guattari have analyzed[69]: a deterritorialization followed by an insistent and repeated
reterritorialization (in Tichs case, his return to Kyjov and his appropriation of the place); a position of
passive resistance to the political universe (Tichs dimension as Socialist anti-hero); the collective
dimension of the project (in Tichs case, beyond his apparent solitude, his integration into networks of
solidarity and his expression of the collective desire that underlies a lazy hedonism liberated from
Communist austerity).[70] For Rouffineau, Tichs precariousness at the threshold of disappearance, his
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radical, minor position (in the Deleuzean-Guattarian meaning of the word), and the simplistic poverty of
his means led him to a becoming-intense (as this is defined in their book Mille Plateaux), to the status of
a maverick,[71] an independent [franc-tireur], which Tich seems to have consciously assumed with a
distance tinted with caustic humor.
The shared point of these recent works is that they approach Tichs works in an independent, distanced
and rigorous way, without the obligatory passage through the mythical phenomenon narrated by Buxbaum
in all of his previous works. For them, it is not a matter of denying the specificity of Tichs history in a
postmodern logic; rather, it is a matter of relativizing it and not making it the unique means of access to
his works, however seductive that might be. If other authors have already more or less distanced
themselves from what I have described as the dominant discourse, today the critic can free himself from it
and finally begin to build a solid critical edifice, to which the present work attempts to contribute.
XXX
In conclusion, it appears clear that there cannot be a single discourse about Tich. In the same way that he
defied the canons of the photographic image, he also through his withdrawal defied the canons of the
critics. Not expressing himself about his works, he left free reign to the most diverse interpretations.
Passively rebelling against the stranglehold on his works (as he had previously distanced himself from
Communist power), he prevented through his discreet but tenacious presence the emergence of a
dominant, mythological discourse about his works. Perhaps it is unavoidable that, in the case of silent
artists, their discoverer tries to monopolize the discourse about them. In particular, this is often the case
when it comes to outsider art, where the presumed weakness of the artist never seems capable of counterbalancing the dominant discourse of the psychiatrist or the curator. But, in the end, such attempts at
domination can only be doomed to failure, faced with the possible expansion of the discourse, the
emergence of contradictory biographical information, and the wealth of analyses and studies. This is
precisely what has happened with Miroslav Tich.

[1] Translator: the title of the exhibition is Die Stadt der Frauen, an allusion to La citt delle donne (The
City of Women), the title of a film by Fellini.
[2] Mirek is a familiar and childish diminutive of Miroslav. It was especially used in the texts that
presented Tich as an outsider-artist (Buxbaum sometimes used it, as well). On the other hand, in the texts
that place Tich within contemporary art, he has always been designated by his adult first name:
Miroslav.
[3] In addition to Buxbaum, there was Hansgeorg Lieern (from the Art and Psychiatry Society), Johannes
Meyer-Lindenberg (President of the German Society for Psychiatry and Neurology), and Manfred in der
Beek. The other two curators were the Zurich-based gallery owner Pablo Sthli and the art critic Klaus
Honnef.
[4] Translator: English in original.
[5] It doesnt seem that Buxbaum had ever cared for Tich in a professional capacity, and it is doubtful
that Tich ever accepted such care. Nevertheless, in his next-to-last text, Buxbaum presented himself (for
the first time) as Tichs psychiatrist: As his psychiatrist, friend and biographer . . . (Catalogue
published by the International Center of Photography, note 29, page 316). [Translator: the quote from
Buxbaum was English in original.]
[6] For more on this subject, see my dissertation, Invention et retrait de lartiste. Lexemple du
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photographe tchque Miroslav Tich, published by Culture Visuelle on 8 March 2010.


[7] Each of the artists were given a simplistic keyword that was supposed to characterize them: Manish,
Gttlich, Arm, Bld, Isoliert, Teuer and Nervs. [Translator: Manic, Godlike, Poor, Dumb, Isolated,
Costly and Nervous.]
[8] Translator: English in original.
[9] Translator: English in original.
[10] Always interested in marginality, Harald Szeemann had written an essay titled und siegt der Wahn, so
mu die Kunst: Mehr inhalieren for the catalogue published on the occasion of the exhibition in Cologne
in 1990 (pp. 68-73). In it, he didnt mention any of the artists whose works were shown, and it isnt certain
that he had even seen the exhibition. Nevertheless, in the film made by Buxbaum in the summer of 2004,
he declared, I was fascinated right from the start, but I awaited a good exhibition. One can suppose that,
if he had known about Tichs work before then, Szeemann would have displayed it earlier, for example,
at the Lyon Biennale of 1997 (The Other) or the Venice Biennale of 2001 (The Plateau of Humanity),
at which his works would have held their own next to those of Eugene von Bruenchenhein and Arnold
Odermatt.
[11] Translator: English in original.
[12] This unsigned note (p. 260 of the exhibition catalogue) was reproduced several times, and attributed
to Harald Szeemann, in the books that were published under the auspices of the Tich Ocen Foundation
the Japanese and Chinese catalogues, the books published by Walther Knig and the Foundation itself
but not in the more independent catalogues published, for example, by the Kunsthaus Zurich, the
Pompidou Centre and the International Center of Photography. If it seems obvious that Szeemann
approved this text, he was, nevertheless, not its author. Identified by the colophon of the Sville catalogue,
the author was the critic Hans-Joachim Mller. This information, which was furnished to me by Tobia
Bezzola in an interview conducted on 17 October 2008, was confirmed by Mller in his book Harald
Szeemann Exhibition Maker, Ostfildern-Ruit (Germany), Hatje Cantz, 2006, pp. 150 and 153.
[13] . . . one of the strangest and most moving contributions to the artistic depiction of bathers, the
sublimation of desire in the history of Western art.
[14] . . . a space for which we have no categories of explanation, comprehension or even description.
[15] In Czech, Tich means silent or peaceful, from which comes the play on words [Pacific Ocean]
in the Foundations name.
[16] Translator: English in original.
[17] Translator: English in original.
[18] Translator: English in original.
[19] Let us note that the catalogue published by the Museum for Modern Art in Frankfurt on the occasion
of its exhibition (8 March to 3 August 2008) was supposed to include essays by Andreas Bee and Udo
Kittelmann (and not Buxbaums text), but, for reasons that have never been explained, these texts did not
in fact appear in it.
[20] Translator: English in original.
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[21] One could enlarge this critique with the writing of an enacted biography described by Ernst Kris
and Otto Kurz in Die legende vom knstler; ein geschichtlicher versuch, their magisterial study of the
heroification of the artist as a magician. [Translator: first published in 1934, this book has been translated
into French as La Lgende de lArtiste, Un Essai Historique, which is how it is cited in this text, and into
English as Legend, Myth, and Magic in the Image of the Artist: A Historical Experiment.]
[22] Here one could, incidentally, pose the question of respect for medical secrets, since Tich was still
alive when these texts were published.
[23] Translator: English in original.
[24] To my knowledge, the only curator who demanded to meet Tich and get his agreement on an
exhibition was Tobia Bezzola, to whom, in 2004, Tich responded Do it if you want, it is ridiculous. I
want nothing to do with it. Markus Landert, director of the Cantonal Museum of Thurgovia, met Tich
on 16-17 August 2003, but decided against mounting an exhibition. Unless I am mistaken, before [the
exhibitions mounted by] Pavel Vant and Gianfranco Sanguinetti, all of the other curators were content
to put their trust in Buxbaum.
[25] Translator: Latin for self-serving.
[26] Translator: English in original.
[27] Translator: A British pictorialist portrait-photographer (1815-1879).
[28] Translator: two Dutch photographers who, like Tich, were born in the mid-1920s.
[29] Cf. Der Mann Mit Der Kamera, published in Fotogeschichte #119, 2011.
[30] Translator: German for The Master of the Female Half-Lengths, which was the name given to an
anonymous Dutch painter (or group of painters) active between 1525 and 1555.
[31] Translator: In Italian, foto povera means poor photo. Yannick Vigouroux is both a photographer
within and a historian of this informal movement.
[32] Translator: English in original.
[33] Translator: English in original.
[34] Linvention de Miroslav Tich, tudes Photographiques #23, May 2009.
[35] Invention et retrait de lartiste. Lexemple du photographe tchque Miroslav Tich, written while at
the cole des hautes tudes en sciences sociales [EHESS] and published by the Culture Visuelle blog on 8
March 2010.
[36] There was a dissertation written about Tich in Czech by Barbora Chytilov in 2010.
[37] Translator: Roman Buxbaum, The Shock of the Old, Modern Painters (July/August 2005).
[38] Miroslav Tichy (15 August 2005).
[39] Miroslav Tichy Pompidou (25 June 2008).
[40] Miroslav Tich (17 May 2006).
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[41] Miroslav Tich (Painter and Photographer) Revisited (24 June 2006).
[42] Miroslav Tich (no date).
[43] Miroslav Tich (27 June 2006).
[44] Miroslav Tich (26 June 2006). [Translator: scroll down to read it.]
[45] Translator: English in original.
[46] Translator: English in original.
[47] Stuart Alexander said... (28 July 2007)
[48] Translator: English in original.
[49] Miroslav Tich: Une fabrication? (17 July 2008).
[50] A film about an old man with no needs and a remarkable past, facing the hype as an artist against his
will.
[51] In particular, he says to the Berlin-based gallery owner Mathias Arndt, Ill make no exhibitions.
Nowhere. Do you understand? and I dont want an exhibition with my pictures in Kyjov. When
Buxbaum says to him, with respect to the exhibition in Zurich, And that was your first exhibition, Tich
replies, That was your exhibition! [Translator: all quotes were in English in the original.]
[52] Translator: all quotes were in English in the original text, though Marc Lenot says (in an email to
me) that they spoke in German and Czech.
[53] Translator: English in original.
[54] Buxbaums Tich Ocen Foundation and Hebnarovs Miroslav Tich: Photographer.
[55] Wanting to meet Tich for my research and having asked Buxbaum, in vain, for access to him for
more than a year (he had told me that this was impossible because Tich had become senile and didnt see
anyone), I finally was able to spend three hours with him on 17 and 19 April 2009. My commentary on
these meetings, dated 2 May 2009 and posted to the Jana Hebnarovs website, was as follows:
Writing an article about the invention of Miroslav Tich, i.e. his discovery by the art world (published in
Issue 23 of the scholarly review Etudes Photographiques), I had the extraordinary opportunity to meet Mr.
Tich on April 17 and 19, 2009. Having been told earlier that he was too old, often drunk, and senile, and
that he would be unable to sustain a conversation and unwilling to meet anyone, I was happily surprised to
be welcomed by him and to be able to spend a total of three hours with him. My visit to Kyjov was thus
very fruitful and pleasant, and it allowed me to bring perspective to my research work. On learning that I
was French, Mr. Tich welcomed me with the Roxane love poem from Cyrano de Bergerac, which he
knew by heart. He demonstrated during our discussions wide cultural interests and a solid knowledge of
European literature, especially poetry, which he is fond of reciting. We talked in French and in German, a
bit in English, and, when he was tired or unable to express his thoughts in a foreign language, he went
back to Czech, which was translated into English for me. Mr. Tichy appeared to me not only of a sound
mind, but as a very bright, cultured and articulate person, with a strong sense of humour. While his
physical health is that of an 82-year old man (he has difficulties walking because of osteoarthritis in the
knees), there is no doubt that his mental health is excellent, even if, not surprisingly at his age, he easily
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gets tired. Although he was a bit reluctant to enter into much of a discussion with me about his creative
process and his photographic work, he was more than willing to tell me many anecdotes from his past and
to narrate parts of his life story, such as his studies at the Fine Art Academy, his military service or his
stay at the madhouse (as he called the psychiatric asylum where he spent some time). About some
subjects, he was very vocal, and was particularly angry with Dr. Roman Buxbaum (who has been the
discoverer of Tichs work and its promoter for more than twenty years), saying that he has refused to see
Dr. Buxbaum for several years now and that he is taking legal action against him (Mrs. Hebnarov, who
has known Mr. Tich since she was a child living in the house next door and has always been close to
him, is not only his devoted caretaker, but also his sponsor and his agent, defending his interests in court).
The versions of some facts given by Dr. Buxbaum on one hand, and by Mr Tich and Mrs Hebnarov on
the other hand, conflict in several respects, and I am neither able, nor empowered to tell right from wrong.
What I can say is that Mr. Tich appeared to me during this visit as very articulate and clear in his mind,
neither senile nor abused or under influence, and as well taken care of by Mrs. Hebnarov and her family.
[Translator: English in original.]
[56] Extravagant Disorder, The Nation, 3 May 2010.
[57] Miroslav Tich (9 July 2008).
[58] Corps de dame: Les yeux du dsir: Les Photographies de Miroslav Tich.
[59] Tichy, taches, toucher. . . (22 September 2008).
[60] Miroslav Tichy, New York Photo Review, 17-23 March 2010.
[61] Translator: William Faulkner was of the opinion that the personality and presence of the artist
should fade away to nothingness, leaving only his work to speak for itself. Faulkners perspective is
invaluable in evaluating the exhibition of photographs of Miroslav Tichy now on view at ICP [] So,
what remains when we do a Faulkner on this exhibition and strip away the personality quirks, personal
tragedies, mythic elements of the artist-hero, political complications, etc.? There is a good handful of
superb images.
[62] Translator: Miroslav Tich: Forms of Truth (Kant, 2011). A bilingual edition (French and English);
French to English translation by Richard Drury. See as well my review of this book: Gianfranco
Sanguinettis Miroslav Tich: Forms of Truth (9 October 2012).
[63] Translator: For the purposes of concordance, here I have called upon Richard Drurys translations of
Sanguinettis French into English, instead of translating these phrases on my own.
[64] Translator: this is Richard Drurys translation of Sanguinettis French into English.
[65] Translator: Richard Drurys translation of Sanguinettis French into English. To evaluate its quality, I
hereby provide the original French, and then my rendering of it. Enfin lart de Tich est si incommode
assumer et comprendre, quaujourdhui on prfre prudemment glisser sur le sujet et parler de ce quon
appelle dj le phnomne-Tich, plutt que de son art. Voil exactement ce que je ne voulais pas faire.
Le spectacle dominant est son aise seulement parmi les phnomnes, car il peut les manipuler, les
produire et les rcuprer son aise. Finally, Tichs art is so inconvenient to accept and understand that,
today, one prudently prefers to pass over the subject quickly and speak of what one already calls the
Tich phenomenon, rather than of his art. That is exactly what I do not want to do. The dominant
spectacle is only at its ease among phenomena, because it can manipulate them, produce them, and
recuperate them at its ease.
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[66] Translator: Gianfranco Sanguinetti was a member of the Situationist International, a grouping of
revolutionaries that existed in Europe and America between 1957 and 1972.
[67] Translator: for Sanguinettis situationist refusal of the phenomenalization of Guy Debord, one of the
founders and perhaps the best-known member of the Situationist International, see his letter to Mustapha
Khayati dated 10 December 2012.
[68] Translator: English in original. Edited by Mieke Bleyen, this book was published by Leuven
University Press on 19 October 2012.
[69] Translator: Kafka: Pour une litterature mineure (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1975), translated into
English by Dana Polan as Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature (Minneapolis and London: University of
Minnesota Press, 1986).
[70] Translator: hopefully the reader will forgive me for this editorial remark, but it is patent that
Rouffineaus critique (such as it has been summarized here) is not an attempt to confront Tichs art, but a
regression to the obsessions with Tichs personal life, only this time they are dressed up in a postmodern vocabulary, which, unlike Buxbaums mythology, is neither clear, coherent nor easy to
understand.
[71] Translator English in original.
(Written by Marc Lenot. Originally published in German as Die kritische Rezeption Miroslav Tichs
Vom Scheitern eines Mythos and included in the exhibition catalogue for Die Stadt der Frauen. Miroslav
Tich (Kehrer, Heidelberg, 2013), p.209-217. Also published in French, in three installments, by Le
Monde between 25 and 27 February 2013. Translated from the French and, where necessary, the German
by NOT BORED! on 1 March 2013.)

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