Sculptor and photographer Vik Muniz is best known for his works made from everyday materials including garbage, string, dirty and even chocolate syrup. Engaging in the referential potential of these unusual mediums Muniz assembles works that incorporate their subject matter into their materials.Read More
Born in 1961 Vik Muniz was raised in São Paulo. Initially studying at an academy of drawing and sculpture on scholarship, he started out in advertising. A twist of fate led him being able to purchase a plane ticket to the United States where he lived with relatives in Chicago for a time. In 1984 he moved to New York where he became involved in the East Village Art Scene. Today Muniz splits his time between Brooklyn and Rio de Janeiro.
Muniz began his career in sculpture with playful works such as Clown Skull (1987), from his 'Relics' series, which depicts the realistic-looking skull of a clown, bulbous bone nose included. Eventually, however, Muniz found the documentation of his sculptural work in pictures to be more compelling than the artworks themselves. He therefore, gradually came to focus on photography as the exclusive final medium for all his works.
Enshrining his unusual assemblages in the medium of photography, Vik Muniz's art adds new dimensions to established notions of representation.
His 1989 series 'The Best of LIFE' was inspired by photographs from the coffee table publication The Best of LIFE, a book he had owned but lost while moving house. Muniz drew the legendary images in the book by memory— iconic images such as Kiss at Times Square and The Man on the Moon (1989)—then photographed the drawings and presented the photos as final works.
Another series, titled 'Pictures of Clouds' (2001), presents photographs taken by the artist of clouds left by a skywriter as they gradually disintegrated and vanished.
In contrast to fast fading formations of clouds which can easily disappear from memory, art masterpieces such as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa (1503) and photographs of Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe are deeply planted within popular consciousness.
Muniz's depictions of these images, however, rework the iconography in non-traditional mediums that align with the content of the image. His 2004 portrait of Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn Monroe (Pictures of Diamonds), is made of diamonds—in reference to her popular song 'Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend'.
In his 'Pictures of Dust' series (2001), Muniz replicates the works of various famous mid-century American artists—such as Donald Judd's Untitled (1965) and Richard Serra's Prop (1968)—in dust collected from the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Discussing the piece in his Joseph M Cohen Family Collection biography, Muniz said: 'Dust is pieces of hair and skin. I think people scratch their heads a lot in museums; that gets mixed with the residue from the artworks themselves. That's the ultimate bond between the museum visitor and the artwork'.
Muniz has, over the past decade, expanded his visual repertoire beyond contemporary culture to include more personal encounters. In 'Pictures of Garbage' (2008), Muniz presents a series of photographs of garbage pickers he encoutered at an open-air dumpsite called Jardim Gramacho just outside of Rio de Janeiro.
Retaining his interest in iconography, however, he stages the pickers as the subjects of classical portraits, such as the slain titular revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat from Death of Marat (1793) by Jacques-Louis David's. Details in images were accentuated with the garbage that had been scavenged by the models.
In Waste Land (2010), the documentary film accompanying the series, directed by Lucy Walker, Muniz outlines that he wanted to 'change the lives of people with the same materials they deal with every day'. Indeed, with the critical acclaim and success of the documentary, the artist and the filmmakers have been able to donate more than $300,000 to Jardim Gramacho pickers' community.
Paying homage to 20th century modernist masters such as Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, and Sonia Delauney, Vik Muniz's ongoing series 'Superfícies (Surfaces)' (2019-Ongoing) brings renewed focus to physicality, surface and texture in abstract painting.
Often qualities overlooked in remembering such works, Muniz's photographs of his assemblages highlight these surface details, often made invisible in two-dimensional photographic reproductions, through layering and shadow.
In 2016 Vik Muniz created Perfect Strangers, a series of murals for New York's 2nd Avenue 72nd Street subway station. Based on original photographs the artist presented and assortment of life size figures rendered in mosaic tile and glass throughout the station.
Vik Muniz has been the subject of both solo exhibition and group exhibitions internationally.
Solo exhibitions include: Pictures of Paint and Museum of Ashes, Sikkema Jenkins & Co. New York (2019); Verso, Belvedere Museum, Vienna (2018); Pictures of Anything, Long Museum, Shanghai, China (2014); Vik Muniz Reflex, P.S. 1. MoMA, New York (2007); The Things Themselves: Pictures of Dust by Vik Muniz, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2001); Seeing is Believing, International Center of Photography, New York (1998); Equivalents, The Grand Salon, New York (1993).
Group exhibtions include: Muchos Caminos, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León. Leon, Spain (2018); The Memory of the Future, Musée de l'Elysée. Lausanne (2016); Seismic Shifts: 10 Visionaries in Contemporary Art and Architecture, National Academy Museum, New York (2013); Defining Moments in Photography, 1967-2007, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2007); The Museum as Muse: Artists Reflect, MOMA, New York (1999); The Photographic Condition, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco (1995).
Ocula | 2021