Sunday, February 3, 2008

Marvelling at obsession at Marvelli

I was lucky to catch the tail end of a wonderful show yesterday at Marvelli Gallery in Chelsea. Titled "L'Amour Fou", it featured the works of three artists who share an obsessive passion at viewing women. The obsession of Miroslav Tichy is perhaps the most disconcerting. His outsider art status has been confirmed in many books and exhibitions. Whether or not he is actually mentally disturbed is the subject of speculation. What we know is that he lives on the margins of society, makes his own cameras out of found objects, and creates stalker like photos of women who seem to not be aware that they are being photographed. The grainy, faded photos, on torn and damaged paper have a visceral feel that pack a pervie punch. They are compelling.

It has been much discussed in photo circles how much Gerard P. Fieret and Tichy have in common. They have a surface similarity in that their photos seem to be taken without artifice; a certain kind of naivité. They also share a passion for looking at women. For me, this is where most similarities stop. Mr. Fieret takes most of his shots in a studio. Clearly he has a relationship with the women he photographs. They are obviously aware they are being photographed, they seem at ease and playful. I can guess that he has enough charm that these models were all convinced to come to be shot. This is a long way from the pervie, loner vibe that comes off of Tichy's photos. Fieret, too, seems to be at the fringe of society, but maybe by choice rather than because he can't fit in. Also, he uses his models as formal studies. While his gaze is sexual, he also lets us dissociate from the body and see the women as pure shape and motion. Mr. Marvelli has found some gems to display; mini masterpieces. The street scene with a group of animated women in a seemingly casual grouping is not less than the best Winogrand. A portrait of a woman with her tongue out, Fieret's signature signature blazed across her bosom, and a formal device of a white bar across the top of the frame is a period classic.

Last, and completely unknown to me, was the work of Carlo Mollino. Mr. Marvelli informed me that Mollino rented a space expressly to use for bringing prostitutes whom he had hired to be photographed. These photos certainly fit the theme of obsession and obsessive looking at women, but they failed to engage me on as many levels as the Tichy and Fieret work. Still, it was a pleasure to see work with which I was unfamiliar, and it was a bigger pleasure to see a small exhibit put together with such care and intelligence.

Also on view at the Marvelli gallery were the smart and engaging portraits of European migrant workers done by Ingar Krauss. This work breaks no new ground in the art world, yet I found them to be eloquent, understated portraits. I was moved to look for longer than I expected and then came back for a second look later. Very fine work.

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