Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Matter of Wit at FotoFest

 by Robert Boyd

Gilbert Garcin and Miro Švolík make photos that are wry, charming, surreal and funny. It makes sense to put the two together. I looked at the show first without knowing anything about the artists. That's the best way to proceed, I think. But since both artists use themselves in the works--Garcin in every photo--it's hard not to construct a story for them. In Garcin's case, I thought he might be a young surrealist. By this, I mean someone who was a young artist in the waning days of surrealism as a movement. Now in his old age (in my scenario), Garcin was using an archaic form of photomontage to continue the surrealist project.

Gilbert Garcin, The Difference, silver gelatin print, 2004

But his real story is even more interesting. Now 81 years old, he didn't start taking photographs until he was 65. Far from being a young member of Andre Breton's surrealist circle, he was the director of a lamp manufacturing firm. Who can fail to be impressed that Garcin completely reinvented himself in retirement?

The photos recall the gentle surrealism of Magritte, but what I think about when I see them is Jacques Tati's M. Hulot. They are both small men (Garcin always depicts himself from a  distance within a surreal landscape) in rumpled overcoats. Garcin even avoids high technology (always M. Hulot's foil)--he could create flawless montages with Photoshop. Instead, we can see that he is physically cutting out images of himself an pasting them into place. It's a totally primitive notion of photomontage. (Even John Heartfield used an airbrush.)

Gilbert Garcin, Le Collectionneur, 2004

The results combine bold design with subtle, self-deprecating wit. This image was especially meaningful for me. If you are like me, and you collect art when you can afford it, you discover over time that your collection starts to overwhelm you. I recently had to confess to a gallerist that a piece I bought from her--a piece I love--was in my closet because I didn't have space to display it. What I didn't tell her was that it was sharing that space with dozens of other artworks.I'm not yet about to be crushed by my collection (like the Vogels were), but I will get there.

Miro Švolík, A Child Like Drawing I Made as a Grown-Up, silver gelatin print, 1989

Miro Švolík uses some of the same techniques as Garcin, but is much more sophisticated in his execution. One thing he likes to photograph (based on this exhibit) are "drawings" that are in part composed of people laying on the ground, photographed from above. Here he superimposed five photos to create one childish drawing--using a child as part of the drawing. These are delightful photos--ones that I imagine would appeal very much to small children (in addition to appealing to mom and dad). Someone should publish them as a childrens picture book!

Ironically, given this childlike appeal, many of the Švolík's photos are quite erotic--but they have a humorous kind of eroticism.

Miro Švolík, Big Woman Little Man, C-print, 2010

I blushed a little when I walked into the hall with these photos. Anytime I noticed someone else in the hallway, I felt like a little boy caught looking at Playboy. Is this an archaic feeling? Do people younger than me raised on easy electronic access to sexy images feel the same? The difference in size between the man and woman very much describes how I often feel when I am in the presence of a beautiful woman. Billy Bragg's song Sexuality contains the line "I feel a total jerk before your naked body of work." I think Švolík may be expressing a similar sentiment in his Big Woman Little Man photos.

Miro Švolík, Art History: Rousseau, silver gelatin print, 2001

These witty photocollages reinforce the "male gaze" by reminding us that whatever the great nudes in art history are, they are also naked ladies, usually drawn or painted or sculpted by men. Once again, there is something childish about it--like a little boy taken to a museum, giggling over what seems invisible to the adults he's with--that lady is naked!

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