Critics’ Picks

Vik Muniz, What Is Painting, after John Baldessari, 2007, color photograph, 108 x 73".


Vik Muniz

Fasanenstraße 28
October 29–January 17

Vik Muniz’s art about art history is great because of its humility. The Brazilian artist is best known for whimsical yet respectful reproductions of masterpieces, made with appealing, idiosyncratic materials that he photographs and then demolishes. His meticulous images, formed from peanut butter, jelly, chocolate, and sugar, celebrate easily digestible, fluffy, fleeting entertainment juxtaposed with historical gravitas. “Pictures of Pigments,” 2007–2008, one of the four impressive, distinct series from Muniz’s first solo show in Germany, also consists of fresh, ephemeral tributes to significant works from art history. But its mood is more sober and less self-deprecating than Muniz’s candied recapitulation of the canon. Here, Muniz utilizes pure powdered pigment to re-create a sample survey of great paintings from the mid-twentieth century. The massive photographs brilliantly document the medium’s native poetry, as their large format reveals lumps and individual grains of pigment: an extra element of sensual delight in Muniz’s careful facsimiles of Jasper Johns, Gerhard Richter, and Lucio Fontana, along with John Baldessari’s text painting What Is Painting, 1968. Yet, the works’ direct relationship to sand mandalas is more striking than their visual aspects. Muniz’s newest pieces are no more transient than their sugary counterparts, but they are ennobled by their link to the complex designs Tibetan monks painstakingly make, and then destroy, to express a Buddhist doctrinal belief in material life’s transitory nature. In the context of contemporary art, the relative importance of the particular works Muniz has chosen to represent may seem secure, but “Pictures of Pigments” smartly questions their status, while underscoring his own process of seeking a stable position in the canon.