Haidy Geismar, NYU
Whilst of course, all art is material culture, Vik Muniz, a Brazilian artist, who I saw in September at Sikkema Jenkins Gallery in Chelsea, New York is one of the few contemporary artists whose work resonates profoundly with material culture studies in its own right, without needing the meditation of critical discourse.
Muniz himself outlines the importance of materiality in his own artist’s manifesto:
“Basically, we artists make art so we can evidence the materialization of an idea, to test it in the material world, only in the end to transform it back into actual visual stimuli, making a connection between ourselves and the world we live in” (Vik Muniz, Reflex: a Vik Muniz Primer, 2005, Aperture Foundation, page 22)
For many years, Muniz has playfully engaged with materiality, creating paintings from chocolate, wire, thread, sugar, dust and tomato sauce. His ‘Equivalents’ series played with Alfred Steiglitz’s famous cloud photography by remaking images of clouds, which have often been observed to look like other things (such as Durer’s hands) from cotton wool.
The work currently on display in Chelsea are large scale photographs of installations copied from paintings of classical subjects by painters such Goya, Cranach and Bourgeureau. Using junk and scrap (old fridges, tyres, bottles, industrial waste, car doors, knuts and bolts), Muniz creates giant collage-like images which he then photographs from on high in his Brazilian studio space. Viewing these images provokes a meditation on authenticity, reproduction, recycling and representation and how these are profoundly mediated by the substance that they are made from. They are both cheerful and thoughtful – asking us what it is about art that initially attracts us, substance? Or image?