VIK MUNIZMetachrome (No. 3/No. 13, after Mark Rothko), 2016, archival pigment print, 134 × 101.6 cm. Courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong. 


Vik Muniz

Ben Brown Fine Arts
Brazil USA Hong Kong


“Metachromes” is the third solo exhibition to be held at Ben Brown Fine Arts in Hong Kong. Featuring the work of internationally renowned São Paulo-born, New York-based artist Vik Muniz, the exhibition showcases the artist’s most recent series “Metachrome” (2016) alongside new works from his renowned “Pictures of Pigments” series (2005–16). In both series, Muniz appropriates iconic 19th- and 20th-century artworks, most notably those by Yves Klein, Mark Rothko, Piet Mondrian, Vincent van Gogh and Frank Stella, using pastel crayon and various colored pigments to recreate familiar masterpieces. In doing so, Muniz asks us to “re-see” these works, not only as the aesthetically pleasing images that they are, but also as commentary on the process of creating art itself.

The title of the exhibition, “Metachromes,” recalls German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s Metatheatre, which sought to draw attention to the theatrical medium, ultimately denying audiences a sense of illusion. Muniz’s works operate in much the same way. In his “Metachrome” series, the artist leaves his medium, pastel crayons, embedded in the artwork, not merely as accidental remnants but rather as constructive elements. Thus, the works become visual records about the process of creating art and solicit further investigation. Similarly, in his “Pictures of Pigments” series, he replaces paint with pure crushed pigment, as a celebration of color. The displayed images at Ben Brown Fine Arts are actually photographs of Muniz’s originals, given the difficulty of displaying these works in their original state. Yet these photographs function on a deeper level: Muniz establishes juxtaposition between the ephemerality of his medium and the concreteness of the photograph. It is as though the artist is inviting his audience to weigh the replicability of photographs, and consider the impact on both the financial and artistic value of the original works.  

VIK MUNIZ, Monochrome, Pink-Blue-Gold, after Yves Klein (Triptych) (Pictures of Pigment), 2016, digital C-print, 3 panels: 129.3 × 304.8 cm. Courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong.
VIK MUNIZ, Monochrome, Pink-Blue-Gold, after Yves Klein (Triptych) (Pictures of Pigment), 2016, digital C-print, 3 panels: 129.3 × 304.8 cm. Courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong.

In Monochrome, Pink-Blue-Gold, after Yves Klein (Triptych) (Pictures of Pigment) (2016) Muniz pays homage to Klein, appropriating his Ex-voto Dedicated to Santa Rita of Cascia (1961), for which Klein encased International Klein Blue powder, synthetic rose pigment and gold leaf in plastic containers. Muniz arranges his composition to mimic Klein’s, merging three photographs of different colored pigments that form a triptych, recalling a format popularised during the Renaissance. Yet unlike the religiously charged Renaissance iconography dedicated to various saints and deities, Muniz’s triptych is dedicated to color itself. He elevates color to sanctified status, suggesting that it takes precedence over form. This work also encourages us to consider color as the essence of all paintings, no matter the subject. Thus, Muniz’s treatment represents painting in its purest form.

These sentiments are echoed in a work directly across the room, entitled Metachrome (Double Scramble, after Frank Stella) (2016). Reminiscent of a mosaic, the work is made up entirely of rectangular pastel crayons, arranged to form Stella’s iconic rainbow squares. Here the strokes of the artist have been playfully substituted by pastel sticks, directing the viewer to carefully consider both the tactile quality and chromatic range of the work. Thus the two most fundamental elements of painting, color and form, are emphasised in this image.

VIK MUNIZMetachrome (Flowers, after Vincent van Gogh), 2016, archival pigment print, 131.1 × 101.6 cm. Courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong. 

VIK MUNIZMetachrome (Still Life with Begonias, after Paul Cézanne), 2016, archival pigment print, 101.6 × 117.6 cm. Courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong. 

While Muniz’s abstract expressionist-inspired works decorate one side of the gallery, his more figurative works are grouped on the other. Here we see a version of van Gogh’s Vase with Poppies, Cornflowers, Peonies and Crysanthemums (1886), Paul Cézanne’s Still Life with Begonias (1879–80) and several of Odilon Redon’s paintings of flowers (1909). In these works, the artist’s hand is more identifiable. He vividly reimagines these iconic works so that the colors appear even more vivid than in the originals. Bold hues draw the viewer’s attention to the importance of color, while the pastel fragments remind us that we are looking at art, prompting us to reflect on the artistic process.    

In both his “Metachrome” and “Pictures of Pigments” series, Muniz celebrates color and form, and ultimately leave his viewers with a newfound appreciation for some of art history’s most iconic images.  

Vik Muniz’s “Metachromes” is on view at Ben Brown Fine Arts, Hong Kong, until March 11, 2017.

Brittany Dale is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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