Vik Muniz (Brazilian b. 1961)
Vik Muniz (Brazilian b. 1961)

Olga, after Picasso (Pictures of Pigment)

Vik Muniz (Brazilian b. 1961)
Olga, after Picasso (Pictures of Pigment)
signed and dated 'Vik Muniz 2007' (on Galerie Xippas label on the verso)
chromogenic print
61 3/8 x 40 in. (155.9 x 101.6 cm.)
Executed in 2007.
Edition of six with four artist's proofs, AP one of four.
Galerie Xippas, Paris.
Private collection, Milan.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
P. Corrêa do Lago ed., Vik Muniz Obra Completa, 1987-2009: Catálogo Raisonné, Rio de Janeiro, Capivara Editora Ltda., 2009, p. 587 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Working betwixt and between the visual codes of photography, the Brazilian-born, New York-based artist Vik Muniz has critically engaged the syntax of image-making and art history for over twenty years. "I think that a photograph is always something that you made before you clicked the shutter button," Muniz has observed, and his practice has evolved through an empirical analysis of photography's process, structure, and categorical truths.(1) Essential to Muniz's work is the use value of the copy, which he mines as a creative point of departure. "To copy is to extend the symbolic value of an image by suffusing it with new technology, thus updating its rhetorical approach," Muniz explains. "In the same way that a book changes as we reread it at different times in our lives, artworks assume different forms as they are reinterpreted throughout history. The system of copying masterworks puts an artist in direct contact with his role models so that he might possibly transcend them."(2)

In his ongoing Pictures series, begun in 1993, Muniz has appropriated iconic images from the annals of art history, reprising and playfully transforming masterworks by artists from Claude Monet and Caspar David Friedrich to Leonardo da Vinci (vis-ã-vis Andy Warhol) and Richard Serra. His innovation lies in his unorthodox materials--e.g., chocolate, wire, thread, ash, dirt--and in his method of photographic reconstruction. In the Pictures of Pigment series (2006), to which the present work belongs, Muniz probed the materiality of color, critically dissecting the optical properties and subjectivity of pure pigment. Color, as both pigment and pixel, has preoccupied Muniz as a conceptual problem since his Pictures of Color series (2001), in which he used Pantone color chips in a "paint-by-number" gridded formation. "I wanted to work with color with the most 'truthfully' photographic dynamics," he explained, "employing photography's subjective qualities to comment on the subjective aspects of color, and using the objectness of the medium to define what color itself might be."(3)

The Pictures of Pigment series continued this investigation of color as a photographic subject, rendering in powdered pigment works by artists such as Jasper Johns, Paul Cézanne, Gustave Klimt, and Pablo Picasso. Muniz constructed these images by arranging powdered pigments onto a digitally printed copy of the original works, piecing the colors together into a new composite image and photographing the resulting gestalt. For the present work, Muniz appropriated Picasso's 1917 portrait of his first wife Olga Khokhlova, a member of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, painted on the occasion of their engagement. According to Picasso's biographer John Richardson, this was "one of the first examples of Picasso's use of a camera in preparation for portraiture."(4) In a similar way as Picasso, who painted from photographs taken by Emile Délétang, Muniz staged his reproduction through the mediation of the photographic lens--in his case doubly so, transforming the photograph of Picasso's painting into a photograph of his pigmented revision. Muniz retains the compelling visual juxtapositions of the original: the decorative floral embroidery and the Ingresque handling, the unfinished background and the suggested hidden profile of the artist in the shadow above Olga's right sleeve. Yet his photograph stands no less as a radical deconstruction of Picasso's portrait, breaking apart his appropriated subject through the essential materiality of color and the perceptual transformation of the photographic medium.

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park.
1) V. Muniz, quoted in M. Fernández-Cid, "Memorabilia," Vik Muniz, Santiago de Compostela: Xunta de Galicia, 2003, 69.
2) Muniz, Reflex: A Vik Muniz Primer, New York: Aperture, 2005, 89.
3) Ibid., 141.
4) J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932, New York: Knopf, 2007, 76.

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