Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Vik Muniz : how much cool is too much?

This is pretty.
Aesthetic experience, yes. Or maybe just a hint of a possible one? How is one to distinguish?

Here is Brasilian artist Vik Muniz presenting his work to an American, non-artistic audience. Notice how technically sophisticated the presentation is. And how the classic dynamic of informal intro - funny bits - thoughtful part - witty ending is well executed. You can clearly see he worked in advertising - he knows how to sell his product. Also, notice what impresses the audience: the technique, the means. The sugar drawings. You did this with sugar?
What's wrong with that picture? What makes it sound like a trick and not like something "creative", in the sense of our dear old contemporary art? Maybe because what is appreciated, in the case of this audience, is mainly 1) skill, and 2) wit. So why is that not enough? Maybe because we tend to dismiss it as having more to do with craftsmanship than with art. But is it really so? The sugar drawings are of kids who work on sugar cane plantations. Still not enough. Something too easy about it, too directly linking two worlds, not letting us travel far enough?
Entertainment. That's what disturbs the artsy eye. He aims to please. He makes his own art look like a fun adventure, not a serious, deep labor. From time to time, he sends a message to the more attentive viewer, but mainly it's just, well, cool.
But an attentive viewer will see there is a lot in there. There are delicious (sorry, I couldn't resist myself) approaches to contemporary art, and some pretty effective dialog undertaken (the dust reproductions, but see also the pigment ones). Effective. Effect. Material. Fluffy little clouds of cotton. Happy. Too happy? Is too happy not contemporary enough? Or is it that sugar is, well, simple, limited? And chocolate, too... Unless, of course, you are Bobby Baker. But maybe, as in Bobby Baker's case, this is to be taken to another level? (The people at PS1 certainly think so)

My favorite part, as you might guess, is at the end, when he speaks about theater and about illusion: "It's not really about impressing, or making people fall for a really perfect illusion, as much as it is...about giving somebody a measure of their own belief, how much they want to be fooled".

You may also want to see Muniz's erotica (made of Silly Putty), although I don't find it particularly attractive.