Vik Muniz: Rebus


Elsewhere at MOMA, Vik Muniz’s “Rebus” takes a more Rube Goldbergian view of life. A brilliant 1987 video by the Swiss duo Fischli and Weiss opens this “Artist’s Choice” exhibition, part of a series that invites the selected artist to plunder the museum’s holdings and follow his or her curatorial muse. The Way Things Go begins with a suspended black garbage bag grazing an old car tire, which rolls across a rough concrete floor and sets off a series of actions and reactions as teetering chairs, ladders, and planks knock into precariously balanced bottles filled with mysterious liquids and flammable foams; fuses sputter, fireworks propel wooden boats, and balloons flatulently deflate or burst. Each step of this 31-minute exercise in mad-science-for-mad-science’s-sake leaves collapsed detritus and fizzing pools behind—sound and fury, then entropy.

This deceptively simple linear sequence is echoed by the aggregate work in the show. Muniz raided not only the painting and sculpture vaults but also the museum’s design collection, reflected in his placement of a ballpoint-pen drawing of a radiant rectangle by Sigmar Polke next to a block of laminated plywood from the Bakelite corporation. Later in the chain, a “Flat-Bottomed Brown Paper Grocery Bag” sits forlornly near Warhol’s painted-wood Brillo-box sculptures. Simultaneously didactic and open-ended, this grouping of 82 objects and images sends ideas skittering around inside your head, generating questions that are usually answered by more questions. A well-known Nan Goldin photo of a couple in bed hangs near Rachel Whiteread’s plaster cast of a mattress. Is the emotional distance between the pair in the picture real—hence the stony object on the floor—or just a frame in time before he stubs out his cigarette and they bounce the bedsprings? Is that striking green plastic pail worth more (because of its place in MOMA’s design collection) than the one I could get at a hardware store? Does juxtaposing it with Duchamp’s store-bought—but artist-titled—snow shovel, In Advance of the Broken Arm, make it art?

Mondays, Wednesdays-Sundays, 10:30 a.m. Starts: Dec. 31. Continues through Feb. 23, 2008

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