Vik Muniz’ Rebus at MoMA

by Art Fag City on February 18, 2009 · 1 comment Reviews

Kiki Smith, Yolk 1999
Kiki Smith, Yolk 1999

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once”
–Albert Einstein.

As if to suggest time is not only a unit of measurement but an innate organizational method of the human brain, artist Vik Muniz follows Einstein’s quote with an observation about how the mind simplifies visual narratives. According to Muniz, the reason for such is due to the mind’s inability to process all the visual elements of a scene simultaneously. In other words, representation is an instinctual and unavoidable interpretation of our environment.

But none of these lofty ideas matter much while experiencing Muniz’s show. A couple of weeks ago I toured through Rebus, an exhibition using art from MoMA’s collection to render the subjects of the artist’s photographs, and drew none of that. Of course, with all wall labels removed, viewers aren’t asked to do much more than to play an associative word game with the objects on display.  Marcel Duchamp’s shovel leads to Gino Colombini’s bucket; Kiki Smith’s Yolk pairs with Rodolfo Bonetto’s timer; A Dieter Rams record player sits next to an Edward Weston photograph of a woman singing. Historical context is not only irrelevant in this show; rather, it’s unwanted.

Given the amount of time I spend listening to people talk about the virtues of layered meaning, multiple interpretations, and complexity in art today, I find the act of reducing art to one level of communication particularly fresh. So much so that I found myself wishing the exhibition wasn’t a singular reference to the artist’s work. I realize this is an act of bravado on the part of the artist, but if representation is powerful enough to render authorship meaningless, it would be nice to see that handled consistently throughout the show.

Vik Muniz is the ninth artist to participate in Artist’s Choice, a series of exhibitions in which an artist serves as curator, selecting works from MoMA's vast collection to create an exhibition.

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