Vik Muniz: Real Pictures
Ben Brown Fine Arts, London
On until 15th September 2019 (FREE)
Vik Muniz (b. 1961) is a passionate Brazilian artist who has lived in the US for over 30 years. He is known for his use of unexpected, sometimes perishable materials (like spaghetti!) in his work. Vik is interested in constructing images that will tap into the viewers subconscious. He seems fascinated by the back and forth between the idea behind the artwork and the material used to make that idea tangible. It is in the crossing of that threshold between idea and material that, he believes, art is really experienced. To Vik Muniz art happens in the museum or in the gallery, not in the artist's studio. To him the artist only does half of the work. The other half is done by the viewer. For that reason the artist needs to consider what the viewer is bringing into the 'bargain' when making the artwork.
Real Pictures is an exhibition of eleven colourful works made by the artist this year in a series aptly called Handmade. It is being shown in the UK for the first time in a solo exhibition at Ben Brown Fine Arts. The mixed media works have elements of painting, collage and photography creating an interesting trompe l'oeil effect that brings the viewer closer to the work. The works are a joy to experience. The more I explored them the more curious I felt about how they were made. I could only imagine the amount of work and patience involved in making each of those unique pieces. I enjoyed looking at the works from different angles and from varying distances trying to guess which parts were actual collages and which were images of a collage. Sometimes the colours took over and sometimes the shades gave it away and I could quickly spot what was 'real' and what was not.
Big Band 2 (Handmade) was one of my favourites. It felt like carnival. The work is made of strips of paper of varying colours - yellow, orange, red, white and different shades of blue - that were cut (or ripped), arranged, photographed and rearranged (and probably rephotographed). Then some of the strips of paper were glued over these layers of photographic images creating an illusion where it is really hard to tell what is what from a distance. That's when the work invites the viewer to get close to inspect the material. Vik achieves beautifully that back and forth dance where the visitor walks away and towards the work moving from the idea (when the visitor is far from the work) to the material (when the visitor is close to the work). And in the threshold between this back and forth art, hopefully, happens.
I feel that I failed Vik in that half-half work partnership. I didn't bring much into the 'bargain'. I went back and forth exploring each work in the exhibition trying to move between idea and material but I seemed to get stuck in the material. While I thoroughly enjoyed imagining the process, I struggled to see the idea. At times I questioned whether the entire exhibition was a celebration of mastery of technique, trompe l'oeil for trompe l'oeil's sake. But is depth of meaning always necessary? Isn't stimulation of curiosity and intrigue sufficient? There is certainly no questions about one thing: physical presence is definitely required for Vik's works to be experienced. Photographs cannot convey the experience.