Books | Vik Muniz
Artwork: Vik Muniz Liver (Hepatocytes) Cell Pattern 1, from Colonies, 2014.
“The really magical things are the ones that happen right in front of you. A lot of the time you keep looking for beauty, but it is already there. And if you look with a bit more intention, you see it,” Brazilian artist Vik Muniz artist observed. His art is a testimony to this belief, a belief heightened to faith that makes each of his works an object of wonder and amazement. Muniz uses the most familiar of materials so completely outside of their normally function that he employs an entirely new medium to be explored. From diamonds to dust, chocolate syrup to tomato sauce, magazine clippings to sugar, and even straight junk, Muniz redefines art with a singular approach that toys with our emotions as it elevates the detritus of life to the creation of art.
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Vik Muniz by Arthur Ollman (DelMonico Books • Prestel) is a sumptuous tribute to the artist’s oeuvre, released in conjunction with an exhibition at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, now through August 21, 2016. The book features more then 150 works created throughout his career, revealing the long thread of art historical references that make Muniz’ a joy to behold. Witness the Mona Lisa recreated in peanut butter and jelly and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis made with diamonds. See Karl Marx made in caviar and Sigmund Freud in chocolate syrup. There are earthworks that include an electric outlet, a single sock, and a dog bone. Elizabeth Taylor comes in cayenne, black pepper, curry, and chili powder.
But Muniz, though exceedingly clever and witty, is not all fun and games. There’s something eerily disconcerting about many of the works, as they recreate familiar masterpiece while taking a distinctly postmodern turn. A map of the world is rendering in junk, recalling the floating barges of trash that are left floating through the oceans. Atlas is envisioned as a black man with a goatee, t-shirt, and vest, created in junk, carrying the world on his back. He gives us Margaret Bourke-White’s Bread Line During the Louisville Flood, Kentucky, 1937, rendered in paper, feeling like nothing so much as newsprint. And then there are the masterpieces made with pictures of magazines, elevating the collage to a astounding new level of sheer brilliance.
Muniz makes the old new again; he takes the known and renders in absolutely breathtaking. Muniz will remind you, you’ve never really looked before. Maybe you’ve seen but you probably did not perceive the sheer depths of possibility. As he observes in an interview with Diana B. Wechsler, “Technology has enabled out culture to transcend its mirror state. We are no longer interested in mimesis, in seeing ourselves; we now want to become what we want to see. The versatility of the digital image brought about a deep disregard toward the visual document. The more an image can be manipulated to ‘mean’ anything according to its maker’s intention, the weaker its bond to reality or history.”
It is in this new world that Muniz’s work reveals our current state, offering a never-ending layering to remind us of this. No longer just looking, Muniz sees things as they are, sees our alienation from and our aggressive dependence of the image itself. As Muniz observes, “Creativity is how we cope with creation. While creation sometimes seems a bit un-graspable, or even pointless, creativity is always meaningful.”
All Artwork: © Vik Muniz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.
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.