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Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
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Bits and Scraps
Vik Muniz
Pictures from Magazines 2
Don Burmeister
Wheat Field with Cypresses, after Van Gogh by Vik Muniz. Source: ©Vik Muniz; Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York
Vik Muniz, "Wheat Field with Cypresses, after Van Gogh" 2011

Vic Muniz is an artist was has always been comfortable working at multiple levels. A conceptualist who makes images with intrinsic interest, he is a photographer who is as adept with his hands as his eyes. And he is an intellectual artist with a penchant for the popular.

All these characteristics are seen in the latest exhibition at Sikkema Jenkins, “Pictures from Magazines 2.” Moving beyond his earlier series of “Pictures from Magazines”, which were all portraits made from small hole punch scraps, the new series consists of very big enlargements of paper collages made from what appear to be small torn magazine scraps and strips. The meta-images, if you will, are homages to various, mostly 19th century paintings. These range from Gustave Caillebotte’s “Floor Scrapers”(1875), to Van Gogh’s “Wheat Field with Cypresses” (1889), to Thomas Eakin’s “The Crucifixion” (1880) and to Gustave Courbet’s 1844 “La Bacchante”.

If there is a unifying concern in Muniz’s work, it is that of image decomposition –how an image changes as one moves closer to it. And in his case there is always a surprise when you do. Rather than dissolving into washes of color or grains of silver, a new order of imaging emerges. We now see before us another world of chocolate syrup, or dust collected in museums, or garbage, or junk artfully arranged on the studio floor. In this show we move into a world of fashion models, art reproductions, swathes of unidentified color, and, rather unexpectedly, strips of words and sentence fragments. All are seemingly hand torn (we can easily see the rough fibrous edges) from the pages of glossy magazines, then carefully arranged to produce the illusion of a painting.

Floor Scrapers, after Gustave Caillebotte  by Vik Muniz. Source: ©Vik Muniz; Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York
Vik Muniz, "Floor Scrapers, after Gustave Caillebotte " 2011

Although the photographs are many feet across, and seem to be sturdily hung on the wall, the original collages were much smaller, and apparently quite ephemeral. The magazine tearings don’t seem to be glued in place, the images easily destroyed by a misplaced fan. This fragility is, in fact, Muniz’s justification for making photographs of his work, rather than showing the original. (There is an interesting video of Muniz speaking of this here.

As most collagists do, Muniz has fun with his tearings, not only are they included for their color, but also often for there intrinsic imagery. The Eakins Crucifixion is replete with not just angels and saints, but also with Buddhas and paparazzi-style celebrity photos. Magazine headlines with the words God, sangre, pure and sin are scattered in the meshwork. Corbet’s nude is filled with women’s faces, and lies on a couch spotted with the words: wonders, kiss, live, smooth and journey. Slyly, an image of a Degas bather has no words at all except “Metropolitan Museum of Art,” slipped casually into the background.

With so much to see, why does the show seem a bit of a letdown? Muniz’s star has shown so brightly over the past few years, that this show lacks a bit of the wonder the earlier work produced. It was only on my second visit to the show that I picked up on why, and it had to do with picture decomposition. Unlike his work based on ‘real’ objects, which were not enlarged to the point where they too started to decompose, in this series the pieces of the overall image are image-carriers themselves, and it is the image on the paper scrap that is the primary contributor to the larger image. What this means is that as one gets closer to the picture you start to see the ben-day dots of the imagery and the integrity of the component piece seems somehow compromised. Unlike in his earlier work, you cannot get closer and closer and still find interesting things to see. You have to stop maybe 12 inches away to maintain the integrity of the image on the paper. Alas, the reason for the mild disappointment in this show is simple – the pictures are just a little bit too big.

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Read the NYPR review of Vic Muniz’s 2010 show at Sikkima Jenkins <here>

Vik Muniz
Pictures from Magazines 2


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Friday, September 9 to
Saturday, October 15, 2011
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The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
Central Booking Magazine
Soho Photo Gallery