Secret Histories | Vik Muniz Reveals the Hidden Side of Masterpieces of Art

Photo: Vik Muniz by: Ivo Hoekstra.

The work of art is created and then it is installed, and it is here that it takes on a property that few consider as a work unto itself. For all the interest that the object evokes, we rarely consider the reverse, the side that is no longer visible once the painting is hung, for its secrets are illusory. Literally suspended in midair, it rests upon the wall, as though floating there for the pleasure of our consideration. But what makes this possible, and how might it look?

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Brazilian artist Vik Muniz (b. 1961) investigates this phenomenon in a new series of work collected in Verso now on view at the Mauritshuis at The Hague, now through September 4, 2016. The exhibition includes a selection of mixed media works based on paintings in the Mauritshuis collection including Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and View of Delft, Carel Fabritius’s The Goldfinch, Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp and Frans Post’s View of Itamaracà Island in Brazil.

Johannes Vermeer. Girl with a Pearl Earring, c. 1665. Mauritshuis, The Hague

Intrigued by the side of paintings invisible to the public eye, Muniz began photographing the backs of masterpieces in 2002. Six years later he achieved his goal, creating the first three-dimensional copies of the versos. For Muniz, the back of every painting was its own unique work to be understood, as the metal brackets, holes, labels, and other markings spoke of its travels through time and space. The work of art reaches completion when it is shown, moving out of the studio and into the world, where it is received on its own. Independent of the artist, the work takes on its own life, a life that may outlive the artist and its era by centuries.

It is this life that Muniz investigates, the work of art as an object of the material world, with a precision that quests for perfection in all things. Together with his team of experts, Tony Pinotti and Barry Frier, they search the world for the exact materials, experimenting with aging processes, and painstakingly copy every single detail.

Vik Muniz. Verso (Girl with Pearl Earring), 2016, mixed media, 120 x 95,5 cm

Verso shows us what only the experts know, the side that is reserved for the museum staff and no one else. With this exhibition, Muniz reveals another layer of the work, one that shines new light on the Old Masters in an innovating and inspiring way.

Emilie Gordenker, director of the Mauritshuis observed, “. His Versos force us to look at famous paintings differently; we can often call them to mind, but we rarely think of them as objects that are installed in galleries, moved, conserved and even carry labels and inscriptions. By stepping back from the familiar image, we gain a more profound appreciation of the works themselves. I can’t tell you what a pleasure it has been to work with Vik and his team, who have created amazing new works and taught us a great deal along the way.”

Vik Muniz. Photo by: Ivo Hoekstra.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.