The materials of thread, jam, chocolate, ketchup, dust, toys, pigments, sugar and puzzles, are as varied as they are incongruent. The artist transforms these materials to reconstruct images that haunt are collective memory, often taken from art history or the media. Vik Muniz is an alchemist. By photographing reconstructed images and blowing them up, he instigates a process that plays on illusions. When looking at his work, the spectator finds himself sucked into an oscillation between what he sees and what he perceives – in other words, between the material and the iconography.
Close up, his gaze is literally lost in the twisting turns of the material: the surface plane of photographic paper disappears and is replaced by a spectacular physical presence. When stepping back from the composition, the image is revealed and the spectator makes sense of it all. The artist’s method of adopting the exact material that emphasizes and intensifies the meaning of an image enables him to build on what is familiar and to create doubt in the spectator’s mind. Because Vik Muniz is also a sculptor, photographer, and philosopher, he creates a dialectic that reinforces the illusion that is present in all mental reproductions.
For his exhibition at the Xippas Gallery in Paris, Vik Muniz presents an ensemble of nine works that came out of his last project entitled Pictures of Magazine 2 (2011-2012). Similar to Pictures of Junk (2005-2011) and Pictures of Garbage (2008), this last series focuses on the destruction caused by media. In a society where the spreading of information is more important than its actual content, and where the build-up of the spectacular trumps all, Vik Muniz recreates the iconic images of the XIX century. Using strips of paper torn out of magazines, sensational newspapers, ads, comic strips, and books, the artist reconstructs paintings by Fantin-Latour, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Manet, and also George Stubbs. Neither classification nor hierarchy influences the sources he selects. Bits of texts, film negatives of present-day celebrities, and reproductions of famous masterpieces, are all mixed together with indifference. Popular culture and high art mingle. The trivial and Historic meet to form a singular one where the medium and the subject are for the first time treated identically.
In the Pictures of Magazine (2003-2007), the use of confetti stresses the pictorial and colorful aspect of the paper used, evoking the pixilation of the image. Here, the strips of shredded paper become individual brushstrokes and each piece easily identified: the words remain legible and the images themselves retain a strong visual punch. His technique provokes a clash that forces the spectator to not only reconstruct the original image and identify it. These works also brings to mind the various references more or less contemporary to the image and asks how they continue to affect us today.
Vik Muniz’s works privilege the medium of paper, which is increasingly neglected today in favor of electronic media. Here, paper retains all its material brilliance and thereby generates an awareness of our rapid consumer culture of images and the images’ eventual disintegration. With this new series, Vik Muniz once again demonstrates his capacity to reveal how vision is constructed, to investigate what is at stake for our society, and to question our relationship with images.
Vik Muniz was born in São Paulo in 1961. He moved to New York in 1984. His first sculptures are “trompe l’oeils” then he began to redraw images from memory and then photograph them. The issues raised by this series on the nature of looking and the role of photography are intrinsic to Vik’s practice, and if Vik has since constructed a body of work mainly photographic, he nonetheless plumbs the nature of visual representation.
Numerous international solo-shows have been consecrated to Vik, among them: International Center of Photography, New York (1998) ; Museu de Arte Moderna, São Paulo and the Museu de Art Moderna, Rio de Janeiro (2001) ; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2001) ; the Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona (2002) ; The Menil Collection, Houston (2002) ; the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Rome (2003) and the Irish Museum of Contemporary Art, Dublin (2004). In 2001, Vik Muniz represented the Brazilian Pavilion in the 49th Venice Biennale.
A retrospective of Vik Muniz’s oeuvre entitled “Vik Muniz: Reflex” has been traveling to many venues between 2006 and 2009 in Latin America and United States and at the Berardo Collection in Lisbon, Portugal (2011).