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TO DEC. 31
It sounds like an inspired pairing: Giovanni Piranesi, the 18th-century artist known for Prisons of the Imagination, an extraordinarily detailed series of etchings, and Vik Muniz, the contemporary Brazilian-born, Brooklyn-based artist famous for whimsical conceptual pieces crafted from such materials as dust and chocolate. Unfortunately, Muniz’s homage to the Italian master, featured in a joint exhibition at the National Academy of Sciences, underwhelms. The eight reinventions—which, inexplicably, are not for the most part hung side by side with their antecedents—use pins and thread to painstakingly re-create Piranesi’s crosshatchings. (The Arch With A Shell Ornament, After Piranesi is pictured.) Muniz doesn’t pretend to pursue exact mimicry, which would have been impossible, given the limitations of pins and thread to replicate small, tightly drawn lines. And the approach’s shortcomings are indeed noticeable: Small human figures that are ghostly voids in Piranesi’s hands approximate miniature hairballs in Muniz’s, whereas smoke depicted by minuscule squiggles simply disappears. Rather than adding depth to a venerable standard of Western art, Muniz’s works impress most for the mind-numbing effort required to create them. (Pins and thread are far more predictable materials than runny chocolate or dust.) But lots of things are exhausting to assemble, from toppling-domino arrays to matchstick villages; Muniz’s project, unfortunately, seems to share more in common with these prosaic pursuits than with his impressive earlier works. The show is on view from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, to Friday, Dec. 31, at the National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Ave. NW. Free. (202) 332-2436. (Louis Jacobson)