The Other Side of Masterpieces
Vik Muniz at Mauritshuis

A little bird is sitting on a wood console – that is all we see in Carel Fabritius’ The Goldfinch. Yet no art historian has been able to adequately decipher the work. Is it an astonishingly realistic picture of a pet or a symbolic representation? Does it contain biblical, mythological, or literary allusions? Only one thing is certain: The Goldfinch has thrilled generations of art lovers, and since it inspired the American author Donna Tartt to write an eponymous book that became a bestseller, the number of fans has grown.

At Mauritshuis, where it has been on exhibit since 1896, Goldfinch can now be viewed from an unaccustomed perspective. Vik Muniz had a copy of the back of the painting made, as part of the series Verso that he began in 2008. The Brazilian conceptual artist, who is represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection, shows the “other side” of such famous works as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. A team of craftsmen, artists, technicians, and even art forgers ensured that it is a deceptively real reproduction. For the presentation at Mauritshuis, five new Versos of world-famous works from the collection of the museum in Den Haag are on display, including Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Rembrandt’s Anatomy of Dr. Tulp. The Muniz show is the first exhibition of a contemporary artist at Mauritshuis, which boasts one of the world’s best collections of Dutch painting from the Golden Age.

With his series, Vik Muniz highlights the object character of the paintings. His Versos highlight their very profane materiality – wood and canvas, the stickers and inventory numbers that tell of it their provenance and archiving, the metal wires they are hung on, and the plates they were embedded on to protect them from theft. There is not a trace of an aura. Since Walter Benjamin’s essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, at the latest, it has been clear that the aura of artworks is threatened by the millions of copies. And since then, mass reproduction has increased rapidly. Today precious masterpieces are put on posters or refrigerator magnets, are shown on the Internet in JPEG files. At the same time, Muniz’ Versos reflect the museum – as a powerful instrument for production, mediation, and archiving of cultural values, meanings, and memories. They “disrobe” their world-famous models and show them naked, so to speak, like parts of a machine that produces culture.

Muniz is an expert on the topic of reproduction. Since the 1990s, he has made picture after picture, processing unusual materials such as chocolate sauce, threads, and garbage to recreate new versions of icons of art and cultural history. This is also the case with his works from the Deutsche Bank Collection. He revives Van Gogh’s Sunflowers using pages from a color swatch, and for his Marlene Dietrich portrait he uses diamonds. He then captures these reinterpretations in photographs. With his Versos, Muniz has now taken the step to three-dimensionality. These objects lean casually on the walls of the exhibition room, as though they are about to be hung. Their backs are very plain, consisting of one-colored cardboard. It would be exciting to know what story they will tell in a few centuries.

Vik Muniz: Verso
Until 9/4/2016
Mauritshuis, Den Haag