Coming to New York, I was caught up in the excitement of the uncanny simultaneity of Vik Muniz’s and Philippe Gronon’s exhibitions, both titled Verso, both purporting to be meticulous re-productions of the back of twentieth-century modern master paintings, both having been researched in the vaults of great museums, Muniz in New York, Gronon in France. The only difference, or so I was lead to believe, was that Muniz crafted a replica of the object itself, whereas Gronon photographically re-presented his chosen paintings. However, despite all of the apparent similarities, the two exhibitions couldn’t be more different.
As I wrote in my review of Gronon’s Verso, his photographs are complex, layered, provocative, and ignite an animated conversation between painting and photography. Muniz’ works on the other hand are superficial. They are indeed carefully-crafted replicas, and their painstaking detail is admirable. However, there does not seem to be any overwhelming artistic or conceptual engagement that might keep the viewer before them. The press release makes a lot of their status as trompe-l’oeil, but given the way they are propped up on the floor of the gallery, there is no secret to the fact that there is nothing on the recto side of the canvases.
While the trompe-l’oeil reference didn’t occur to me, the one question they may provoke, and even then it is unwitting, would be their potential challenge to what constitutes forgery. Can the back of a painting be forged, and passed off as the original, or is it the privilege of the auratic recto? Then again, no visitor to this show would be under any illusion that these objects could pass as anything but objects in a fancy Chelsea gallery