It is impossible to overstate the importance of Gunchen Maladroit's contribution to photography. Well, it's not impossible, so to speak, but rather ill-advised. The last person to play down Maladroit's artistic worth (Daily Schneisser art critic Justav Fliminim) was executed by German authorities using a giant pestle and mortar; his body turned to paste that was later fed to his children in baps. Such is Maladroit's sway over the art world.
Now the Tate Gallery in Lincoln is hosting a retrospective of the diminutive German's work, and the Imaginary Review was the first reviewer camped out at the gallery gates on the day of opening, beating Marina Hyde of the Observer by three minutes.
The earliest stage in Maladroit's career can be summed up by the stunning photograph seen right, 1956's Oh my God! It chafes! It chafes!
As the rest of Germany was struggling to get over the Second World War and that wall that was built, Maladroit focussed on more 'at home' problems, like the inability to purchase cotton underwear. When it was first displayed in 1958, Oh My God! It Chafes! It chafes! caused a sensation in Berlin and twenty-seven people had to be castrated.
The composition of the photograph here is less importart to Maladroit than the message, so there is somewhat of a naivety about it; rules of perspective are unknown and therefore disregarded with an unknowing glance.
The next picture that we have paid a great deal to reproduce is Track 5: Insect Royalty from Maladroit's 1966 series entitled Entschuldegung! (pictured right). The work is among some of Gunchen's finest, with pathos, bathos and pathetic fallacy all jettisoned in favour of some black and white stuff. It is said that Maladroit went to some of the most beautiful places in the world using his grant money, and then refused to take photos in those locations, instead enjoying watersports and nightlife. His reason for this, he claimed, was that 'life is not beautiful, so why just I represent it that way in my photographs?' His detractors asked why he would piss away his grant money in exotic locations, but once a few of them started disappearing, dissenting voices were few and far between.
1980's I Have Lost My Cat XIX shows a low point in the photographer's life, when he lost his cat and was unable to think of any pretentious names for his pictures. Despite this, his work from this period displays a wonderful sense of ennui and sadness, to which I'm sure anyone who has lost a pet can relate. The vivid greys, the stilted light blues, all point their fingers towards a cloud of despair, but in some ways the pictures themselves have clouds that are shaped like aubergines.
Maladroit's cat was found in 1982. It had moved to Finland to be with a postman named Maurice.
Between the years of 1982 and 1990 Gunchen Maladroit began his 'black period',
when he would arrange the most beautiful still lifes and reclining nudes (evoking the most ostentatious art of the previous few centuries) but photograph these scenes with his lens cap still attached to his camera. Most of these works are rubbish, but one from 1988 stands out: the quite atypical Gamera Hollow Chestnut Maxim IV: A Man Named Len Goodman Will Come and He WIll Judge A Dancing Competition. The black lines and crosses are from the Japanese symbol for 'poetry'; the picture was taken by accident when a small Brazillian child stole Maladroit's camera and, thinking it was a gun, tried to shoot his mother with it. Maladroit was so enamoured with the photograph and the child that he adopted the boy as his own son, and passed the picture off as his own.
In 1995 Maladroit re-emerged on the photography scene with a big bag of pictures and some scabby knees. Apparently he had been trapped underneath a fallen portrait of Casper Hauser in his living room for several months, and nobody had noticed he was gone. He survived on a diet of carpet dust and gin, but luckily his camera was with him at all times. Here is one of them, Won't Somebody Please Come and Get Me Out of Here? I've Pissed Myself Eighteen Times Now and I'm Really Cold. It shows Gunchen's marvelous eye for detail and dedication to his art; despite having been trapped on the floor of his house for many weeks by this time, he still paid attention to the composition of the piece.
Gunchen Maladroit has taken some more photos especially for this exhibition, and for the accompanying coffee table book. The one that we have been able to show here, Wikipedia Can Kiss My Arse, Non-Notable Artist My Foot (2007) again displays the versatility and talent of the artist. If only we knew what it was supposed to be. If you tilt your head a bit it looks like Cameron Crowe.
So, Gunchen Maladroit: A Life in Frame contains all the pictures that you need to see on a rainy Lincoln afternoon. Plus it's free to enter, so that's a bonus. But the food in the restaurant is extremely overpriced. So this exhibition gets four stars (out of five).
All the pretty pictures will be on display until 2011, when the gallery will burn down mysteriously. The book accompanying the exhibition, Gunchen Maladroit: A Life in Frame: The Book Accompanying the Exhibition will be available in shops priced twenty quid, or three hundred quid for the special limited edition which comes with its own coffee table.