Vik Muniz, Verso @Sikkema Jenkins

JTF (just the facts): A total of 23 works, 9 “backs of paintings” in the main room, and 14 “backs of photographs” in the back room (see installation photo at right.) Editions of 3 for the backs of paintings and editions of 6 for the backs of photographs. All dated 2008.

Comments/Context: If we use a narrow definition of the word “photographer”, I’m not sure that Vik Muniz would be included. Over the past 20 years of so, he has used a dizzying array of materials to make his images, and photography has been one of his tools in producing final works. However he gets categorized, his work has been consistently thought provoking, especially if you take the time to get beyond the initial novelty of his approach and media (sugar, chocolate, diamonds, caviar, etc.).
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The works in this show are physical copies of the backs of famous paintings and photographs. As you look at these works up close, you can see that they have been painstakingly recreated, down to every last nick, scratch, smear, and dent, with real residues of glues, labels, ink stamps and marking crayons. One might call them sophisticated trompel’oeil; one might also call them forgeries. While the “physicalness” of the paintings is amazing, I was drawn more to the works representing photographs. These works were intriguing in several ways (in my opinion).
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Firstly, these works challenge you to reconsider the idea of the photograph as an object, rather than as an image or a subject. The backs remind you of the tangible quality of photographs, and of their use in magazines, newspapers and exhibitions. In this digital age, we have already evolved to be wary of the truth of the photographic image; these works make you wary of the truthfulness of the object itself, even when it all “looks right”.
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Second, it is clear that Muniz has gone far beyond the appropriation art of the 1970s and 1980s. Unlike, for instance, the Sherrie Levine of Walker Evans’ Alabama tenant farmers, which appropriates the image itself, these works appropriate the backs. Rather than an end itself, the appropriation seems to have been a starting point for reconsidering the image. Indeed, much of Muniz‘ work could be said to have started with an external image, that was then put through the filters of the artist’s mind, only to come out the other end as something recognizable as related to the original, but wholly different.
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Finally, I think the backs ask us something about how memory works. I found myself looking at each image and trying to conjure up the front (the recognizable image) in my mind. While I got most of them to some degree, I was amazed at which of the details of any one of the images might have stuck in my mind. And then I got to wondering if it was the original image that I remembered, or some later appropriation of that image that was in my memory. That really made my head spin.
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By all means, swing by and take a look at these pieces, if only to make you mind work a bit.

Collector’s POV: The backs of paintings are priced between $75000 and $90000 based on size. The backs of photographs are $16000. These don’t even remotely fit into our collection in any way, but they sure are mind boggling.
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By the way, as flower collectors, we have been on the lookout for any of the series of still lives that Muniz did in the late 1990s of artificial flowers (another testing of the limits of truth). If anyone has one or knows where to find one, please do let us know.
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Rating: * (1 star) GOOD (rating system defined here)
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Vik Muniz, Verso
Through October 11th

Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
530 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011

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