Vik Muniz, the prolific Brazilian-born photo-conceptualist whose earlier works involved sugar, soil, wire, thread, cotton balls, and chocolate syrup, takes ink and its use in newsprint as his latest medium in a pair of shows. Media and memory have been Muniz’s subjects from the beginning, first evidenced in his “The Best of Life” series, for which he photographed drawings of imperfectly remembered moments in magazine photojournalism. For his “Pictures of Ink” at Brent Sikkema, the artist didn’t rely on his memory, but he depends on and teases ours.
Working with ink mixed with glycerin to keep it from drying too fast, Muniz has created what at first appear to be pointillist abstractions: dense grids of black dots on a white ground, as if a newspaper photo had been magnified many times. Basically, that’s just what Muniz has done—with images that range from a footprint on the moon to the most famous of Cindy Sherman’s “Film Stills”—but he’s done it manually, not mechanically. (The Hindenburg explosion demanded nearly 50,000 hand-applied dots of ink.) Atomized up close and as agitated as a snowy TV screen at a distance, these images have a hauntingly elusive, almost hallucinated, quality. Formally elegant and whip-smart, they represent a new high for an artist who keeps upping his own ante.
Uptown at Ubu, Muniz shows two series of lighter, more playful works. The wittiest of them appear to be 64 ordinary newpaper clippings, matted and framed, until you read the headlines: “Oil Spill Shaped Like Virgin,” “Disney Corporation Buys Venice,” “Henry Moore Took Drugs,” the last accompanied by a “photo” of packets of heroin found stashed in a sculpture touring Asia. Here, everything—stories, bylines, drawn photo images, ads, etc.—is the product of Muniz’s frighteningly fertile imagination. Wherever it takes him next, we’re more than ready to follow.