For a change of pace I thought today I would write about an artist I feel conflicted about. His name is Vik Muniz and he is a mixed media representational artist. I admire his skill, work ethic, and boldness in trying new materials, but there is something about some of his work that keeps me from getting on board as a full-fledged fan. I think there is a line he has crossed that makes much of his work more about the gimmick than about the expression. I think this mostly occurs with his pieces that I would classify as “pop-art,” in that he is portraying a celebrity, or doing a parody of a well-known piece of art. There is just a feeling of lack for a deeper meaning. The Mona Lisa has been painted, and parodies of the Mona Lisa have been done, so to create yet another out of puzzle pieces, or peanut butter and jelly, regardless of how difficult that might be, just seems like a novelty or magic trick and not a deep expression of emotion.
I find his original works much more compelling. Here you can detach from the fact that it is an image or figure we have seen a million times and focus on the content. You can appreciate the process as well as the form on a deeper level. I especially like his pieces where he uses garbage; it brings a real sense of texture and emotion into the piece. It makes them feel gritty and downtrodden. And his portraits with sugar offer some interesting parallels. He is using a very white substance like sugar to create portraits of very dark skinned African American individuals. One might also draw on the fact that in the days of slavery, many African Americans were working on sugar plantations. I am not sure if he is intentionally trying to refer to these ideas, or if I am just grasping at loose threads, but an argument could be made to these relations.
Overall, I am appreciative for the work of Vik Muniz. In developing ones aesthetics it is just as important to understand why you might not like something about a piece of art as it is to understand why you love it. And I think there is something very intensely interesting about the mind of Mr. Muniz. His ability to work with these often messy materials in such a surgical way is in itself enough to admire his work immensely.
[added at suggestion of a reader] For more information on Vik Muniz, please see this link.