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Jitka Hanzlová's Time Travel at the Yancey Richardson Gallery

By Adèle Bossard

Since the mid-1990's, the Chelsea district has become a center of the New York art world. As a comparison with the “Museum Mile” in the Upper East Side, we could easily speak of a “Gallery Mile” in this neighborhood that contains more than 350 galleries, approximately from twenty-first to twenty-ninth streets, between tenth and eleventh avenues. In the heart of this area, at 535 West 22nd Street, half a dozen galleries are settled in the same brand new building. My attention got concentrated on the third floor with Jitka Hanzlová's exhibition at the Yancey Richardson Gallery.

Untitled, From the Series "There is something I don't know" by Jitka Hanzlová, 2011. Photo by Adele Bossard. Untitled, From the Series "There is something I don't know" by Jitka Hanzlová, 2011. Photo by Adele Bossard. Untitled, From the Series "There is something I don't know" by Jitka Hanzlová, 2007. Photo courtesy of the Yancey Richardson Gallery.

Jitka Hanzlová's work has something of a travel back in time. Her current exhibition “There is something I don't know,” is made up of several portraits of men and women facing the camera and looking to it in a three quarter or full profile, with a dark background reduced to the minimum. Those subjects are young, old, beautiful or not, just like you or me (actually, may be more like me, because they are all Europeans). They are not models and their faces have not been retouched, leaving the pictures loyal to reality. They don't really seem happy but they don't look sad either. Their look is vague and their minds seem to be far away, thinking of who knows what. This “something” that Jitka Hanzlová does not know, referring to the title of her exhibition, might have to do with that.

The pose is frozen and feels unnatural for our time. Ms Hanzlová has been seeking individuals whose presence was evocative of the portraits of the Renaissance period, perhaps as an homage to Leonardo da Vinci's “Mona Lisa” or Piero della Francesca's “Duke and Duchess of Urbino.” Moreover, the background is so simple that we barely notice it, leading the eye to focus on the most important part of the picture: the subject.

Piero della Francesca, "Duke and Duchess of Urbino," c. 1472. Oil on panel, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
Leonardo da Vinci, "Mona Lisa," c. 1503-1519. Oil on poplar, Musee du Louvre, Paris.

What is intriguing is that the subjects of the collection, who are contemporary people, are set in a background and a pose that are characteristic of the Renaissance, giving a touch of timelessness. The result of such a confrontation of different eras can be disturbing because the people we see do not have much in common with most of the pictures we are used to see nowadays. The portraits seem to be suspended in an atmosphere from another time.

It is worth noticing that the Czechoslovakian born photographer Jitka Hanzlová fled from her communist native land when she was 24, in 1982, and found asylum in Germany, where she still lives now. In all of her different works, she tries to capture people as individuals and not as representative of a social or racial group, a nation or a profession.

Ms Hanzlová firstly gained recognition with her series “Rokytnik,” a collection of pictures she took in her native village, when she was feeling the need to go back to her childhood roots. Once again with this exhibition, it seems that her experience of exile plays an important part. The subjects of the current series are all alone and none of them is smiling. “There is something I don't know,” says Jitka Hanzlová, but she certainly is in a better position than we are to understand what they are feeling.

On the left, the Yancey Richardson Gallery entrance on 22nd Street. Photo courtesy of Friedrich Petzel Gallery.

If you go:

Jitka Hanzlová: “There is Something I Don't Know”
At the Yancey Richardson Gallery
535 West 22nd Street
Opening hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
Closes December 22, 2012
Free admission



Adèle Bossard is a free lance writer from Saumur, France.

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