Vik Muniz is best known for his works made from everyday materials such as string, garbage, chocolate syrup and dirt. He engages in the referential potential of these surprising mediums by assembling works that incorporate their subject matter into their materials. In doing so, Muniz adds new dimensions to established notions of representation.
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, he found photographic documentation of his sculptural work to be more compelling than the artworks themselves and gradually came to focus on photography as the exclusive final medium for all his pieces. 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 memory—among them The Man on the Moon and Kiss at Times Square (both 1989)—then photographed the drawings and presented the photos as final works. In another series, titled 'Pictures of Clouds' (2001), the artist photographed a skywriter's clouds as they gradually disintegrated and disappeared.
Unlike fading clouds formations which are in danger of disappearing from memory, masterpieces such as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and photographs of Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando are deeply embedded in popular consciousness. However, Muniz's depictions of these images rework the iconography in non-traditional mediums that match the content of the image itself. For example, his 2004 portrait of Marilyn Monroe, titled Marilyn Monroe (Pictures of Diamonds), is made of diamonds—a reference to her famous 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'.
In the past decade, Muniz has extended his visual repertoire from contemporary culture to more personal encounters. In his series 'Pictures of Garbage' (2008), he photographed garbage pickers he met at an open-air dumpsite just outside Rio de Janeiro called Jardim Gramacho. However, he retains his interest in iconography by staging the pickers as the subjects of classical portraits, such as the French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat from Jacques-Louis David's Death of Marat. Details of the images were accented with the garbage the models had scavenged. In the accompanying documentary film Waste Land (2010), directed by Lucy Walker, Muniz states that he aimed to 'change the lives of people with the same materials they deal with every day'. Indeed, due the critical acclaim and success of the documentary, the artist and the filmmakers have donated more than $300,000 to the pickers' community in Jardim Gramacho.
Muniz splits his time between Brooklyn and Rio de Janeiro.
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Metachromes is the third solo exhibition to be held at Ben Brown Fine Arts in Hong Kong. Featuring the work of internationally renowned São Paulo-born, New York-based artist Vik Muniz, the exhibition showcases the artist's most recent series Metachrome (2016) alongside new works from his renowned Pictures of Pigments series (2005—16).
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