ESKO MÄNNIKKÖ'S DERELICT BEAUTY
The derelict is not something one generally associates with beauty. That, however, can’t be said for Esko Männikkö. In “Time Flies,” now on view at Yancey Richardson Gallery in New York, the self-taught Finnish photographer exhibits twenty-five photographs pulled from his traveling museum retrospective. Meticulously arranged and cropped, the photographs are a part of Männikkö’s constant search for beauty—what he claims as “the point of everything.”
Displayed at an almost-suffocating-yet-deliberate physical closeness in the gallery space, the photographs range from Männikkö’s ongoing Organized Freedom series to the more recent Blues Brothers series, showing objects that have paid the cost of time or, as Männikkö puts it to Maija Koskinen in the catalog’s interview, “traces and signs of life lived.” The vibrant images of abandoned spaces, decaying moss-covered tombstones, and rusting cars can be seen as existential portraits of time past. They show not what, but who was there before; they are a dance between nature and human civilization.
“Time Flies” brings up notions of form, arrangement, and romanticism, but not the expected feeling of sympathy. Shown in custom-built, ornate, weathered-wood frames, the photographs take on a sculptural presence, existing past the physicality of the paper they’re printed on. In what can only be a satirical nod to critics, Männikkö, whose photographic style has been repeatedly compared to Johannes Vermeer’s photorealistic paintings, exhibits a piece from Organized Freedom with a graffiti depiction of Vermeer’s classic Girl With a Pearl Earring. Framed in battered wood that looks as though it could have been pulled from the pile in the photograph, the work is observational and exploratory. And while Männikkö doesn’t see his work as traditionally documentational, he frequently records the passage of time. “I am interested in the way that natures takes places over,” he says.
Männikkö at times wants to distance himself from the associations of being Finnish, “I hate it that you have to belong to a particular country,” he says. It was, however, his intimate portraits of the depopulation of northern Finland that led his work to be initially recognized in 1995, when he was awarded Young Artist of the Year in Finland. In seeing Männikkö’s work, it’s hard to disassociate it from the bleak coldness preconceived as characteristic of northern Finland, even when the subject matter moves outside of his home country. And to Männikkö, each photograph is a self-portrait, regardless of the subject matter, so the connection isn’t likely to change.
Esko Männikkö’s “Time Flies” runs through March 14 at Yancey Richardson Gallery, 525 West 22nd Street, New York. All images © Esko Männikkö, courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York.
Yelena Perlin is an art director based in New York. Say hello to her on Twitter @yelenalena or follow her on Instagram @yelenalena.