Critics’ Picks

Vik Muniz, Seashell fossil, Paris Bay, 45 million years, Museum of Ashes, 2019, archival inkjet print, 30 x 40".

Vik Muniz, Seashell fossil, Paris Bay, 45 million years, Museum of Ashes, 2019, archival inkjet print, 30 x 40".

New York

Vik Muniz

Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
530 West 22nd Street
October 10–November 16, 2019

Vik Muniz’s pair of exhibitions here, titled “Surfaces” and “Museum of Ashes,” present two facets of the artist’s ongoing interest in what critic Jonathan Crary calls vision as a “mode of work.” Muniz is known for his whimsical reinterpretations of famous artworks, such as Caravaggio’s painting Medusa, 1597–99, which he remade out of garbage then photographed. In “Surfaces,” Muniz turns to modernist abstraction—images that, like his, take effort to see. For instance, Iberia, after Carmen Herrera, Surfaces and Provincetown I, after Marsden Hartley, Surfaces (both 2019) are pictures of the iconic pieces mentioned in the titles, which were then cut up, collaged, and painted—multiple times over—and finally shot. The resultant photographs are not exact replicas, of course, but loving homages Muniz built up from multiple layers—both literal and affective.

Muniz reaffirms that his preoccupations with surface and the mental construction of images stem from having learned art history through slides and reproductions. We see this most explicitly in “Museum of Ashes,” which is based on the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, an encyclopedic institution that, tragically, lost its inimitable collection when it burned to the ground on September 2, 2018. Working with scientists, the artist re-created several of the museum’s lost artifacts with soot salvaged from the fire, displayed here as photographs and blackened statues printed from 3-D scans. The “carbon copies”—which include the skull of Luzia, the oldest human from Latin America; dinosaur skeletons; and a Pompeiian fresco—seem charged with a sense of urgency, as they contain remnants of their original selves within.

“To possess is to lose,” wrote the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. “To feel without possessing is to preserve and keep, for it is to extract from things their essence.” What’s lost may be lost, but Muniz imparts some solace: If we can preserve the image, perhaps that is enough.