Here's what New York artist Vik Muniz does, as seen in a show called "Remastered" at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He chooses a famous work of art, then finds a photographic reproduction of it. Then he uses normal objects, spread out on a surface, to duplicate that image.
He takes dots punched out of glossy magazines and uses them to duplicate the tones and shapes and brushstrokes of a Cezanne still life. He ties little knots and lengths of strings between shiny pins to duplicate the scratchy lines in one of Piranesi's famous prison etchings. He puddles and drips chocolate sauce until it duplicates a famous photograph of Jackson Pollock pouring paint onto one of his canvases.
And then, in each case, Muniz takes a photo of his artistic mess and presents it as a giant glossy on the gallery wall. That final photo powerfully evokes the work of art it references. And also seems a million miles from it.
World becomes art becomes photo becomes mess that looks like photo that is then photographed again. There are moments when Muniz's project feels like straightforward illusionistic fun. And then another moment's thought reveals the bizarre complexity in it.
Vik Muniz: Remastered is at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia through Nov. 27. Call 215-972-7600 or visit www.pafa.org.
-- Blake Gopnik