New York

Zofia Rydet, Landscapes, ca. 1975, black-and-white photograph, 10 1/2 x 9". From the series “The World of Feelings and Imagination.”

Zofia Rydet, Landscapes, ca. 1975, black-and-white photograph, 10 1/2 x 9". From the series “The World of Feelings and Imagination.”

Zofia Rydet

BROADWAY 1602 | Uptown

Zofia Rydet, Landscapes, ca. 1975, black-and-white photograph, 10 1/2 x 9". From the series “The World of Feelings and Imagination.”

If she is now remembered at all, Polish photographer Zofia Rydet (1911–97) is probably best known for “Zapis Socjologiczny” (Sociological Record), 1978–88. This epic cycle of images—her last—consists of more than thirty thousand negatives and documents the humble realities of Polish village life, focusing in particular on ordinary people at home. The black-and-white shots, though predictably gritty, aren’t quite as dry as their censuslike title suggests; many celebrate a surprising flair for interior decoration on the part of their otherwise unassuming subjects. “The World of Feelings and Imagination,” Rydet’s previous series from the 1970s, is more fanciful still, making use of photomontage to describe a fantastical landscape explicitly informed by Dada and Surrealism.

At Broadway 1602, eleven entries from “The World” were presented in conjunction with “THREAT,” a survey of post-Surrealist art made by women in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. The juxtaposition was a helpful one, making it clear that Rydet’s vision is not without its echoes, both in Europe and America. The press release for the group exhibition argues that Surrealism might be considered “an inherently effeminate art form” insofar as it seemed to suggest ways of investigating explicitly feminist ideas without recourse to the didactic. A set of collages by Penny Slinger from 1977 was among the works presented here in support of that claim, though even these, with their images of naked women under threat, seem fairly strident next to Rydet’s work. Although both artists employ the same method and format, producing results that look superficially similar, Rydet’s visual language is broader and stranger.

Working in collaboration with Rydet’s heirs, the Warsaw gallery Asymetria has facilitated several recent presentations of her oeuvre, and the selection that was on display in New York has a slight air of having recently been exhumed from some rusty plan chest. If Rydet is enjoying a revival, it is a justified one. In addition to its correspondence with Slinger’s contemporaneous body of work, “The World” also exhibits similarities with practitioners of collage, from Hannah Höch to Linder Sterling. If anything, Rydet tends to hew closer to the style of the more recent of these two examples, exercising notable restraint when it comes to the number of elements she incorporates into each composition.

A typical work in the series locates a figure or figures in a desolate land- or seascape, dark skies and stormy waters contributing to a baleful atmosphere. The figures are not always human—often they are statues, mannequins, or (this being post-Surrealism after all) blank-eyed dolls. An overarching mood of abandonment and melancholia is reflected in titles such as Leavings and Sentimental Ballad, and the combination of the ruined and the futuristic echoes the blighted Zone in Andrei Tarkovsky’s dystopian sci-fi movie Stalker (1979). In Threat (all circa 1975), mannequins loiter in small groups on a choppy-looking body of water, giant ears sprouting among them like bullhorns. In Expectations, all five subjects of a family portrait are given the same head, its stony, downcast face seemingly borrowed from a weather-beaten statue. And in Landscapes, a female torso seen in fleshy close-up is paired with another antique monument as a cold sun sets on the distant horizon. In her essay on the artist, critic Urszula Czartoryska writes of Rydet’s ability to conjure “a different kind of life” through the practice of “faithful wandering.” Creator of an exhaustive kitchen-sink survey in “Sociological Record,” Rydet was revealed here as an accomplished explorer of less tangible realms.

Michael Wilson