New York Times: Vik Muniz: ‘Pictures of Magazines 2’

By Roberta Smith
September 15, 2011

Sikkema Jenkins & Company
530 West 22nd Street, Chelsea
Through Oct. 15

The photographer Vik Muniz operates with impunity in the Bermuda Triangle bordered by commercial, popular and fine art, which can drive the art world a bit nuts. (He resembles David Hockney in this regard.) But he almost always puts on a good show in terms of sheer showmanship, and his current one is even better than usual. It reminds us that part of the razzledazzle of his art stems from physical texture, which almost no photographer has exploited with such optical richness.

Mr. Muniz’s particular fusion of the two main strands of postmodern photography — appropriation and setup — is aggressively material based and consequently uncannily tactile, if also sometimes rather hokey. Over the years he has remade, and then photographed, Corot landscapes from thread, Marilyn Monroe from diamonds, various Process Art pieces from dust and, perhaps most famously, sugar cane child laborers from sugar. Other works have employed luncheon meat,chocolate, coins, wire, spices, junk, tiny toys, dominoes and dry pigment.

Mr. Muniz’s latest efforts continue his long-term obsession with remaking famous paintings, this time using scraps torn from glossy magazines. A Degas bather, a Courbet nude, Caspar David Friedrich’s jaunty “Wanderer Above the Sea” and Gustave Caillebotte’s floor scrapers are among the canvases that he has carefully reproduced in collage, then photographed and enlarged to as much as 10 feet high. The effect is startling. All because of the vagaries of enlargement, it seems, the images almost appear to be pieced together from tiny pieces of fluttery, slightly fuzzy frayed cloth, like some kind of rag picker’s folk art.

There is of course a wild assortment of details to be gleaned from the elaborate foliage of the images, including small faces, figures, bits of words and text, and more art. The white ground surrounding Thomas Eakins’s 1880 “Crucifixion” is dotted with fragments of weeping Madonnas from various Northern Renaissance paintings, while an onlooker from George de La Tour’s “Fortune-Teller” directs her sidelong gaze at Jesus’ pelvis. But it is the larger impression — of quavering, fluttering surfaces, of the surfeit of detail, of painting actively overtaken by collage — that holds the eye. This crazed fusion of matter, hand and lens is always at play in Mr. Muniz’s photographs, but until now it has never been achieved in quite such adamant terms.