A self-described ‘low-tech illusionist,’ Vik Muniz has been incorporating everyday objects into his creative process to build clever and audacious images based on art history, photojournalism and popular culture since the early 1990s. Though the Brazilian-born artist’s images are seemingly familiar, it is soon evident that he has used sleight of hand to show us something new.
Muniz creates drawings made from household materials such as chocolate syrup, dirt, dust, ketchup, peanut butter, jam, pigment, string, sugar, wire, and the circular paper remnants made by hole punches. They are then photographed, leaving us with just a teasing hint of the discarded objects he has used as his media. Often, these finished artworks exist as studies of absent iconic originals by the likes of such Old Masters as Goya and Caravaggio. They examine how we lose experience of original objects by continually reproducing them.
It is a process that navigates between drawing and photography, as well as between art history and the complexities of our contemporary society. Take for example the simple ingenuity of Muniz’s 2006 Pictures of Junk series. The artist collects and arranges junk to create various tableaux. A Rio de Janeiro warehouse floor serves as his canvas, while inner-city youths involved in the Centro Espacial charity — created by Muniz to bring art projects to life for underprivileged young people — help him sort and organize objects which he then photographs from an elevated height.
Here, with WWW, we are not revisiting an art-history masterpiece, but rather a universal image that upon first glance recalls a topographical map on the wall of our first geography class. But step in closer, and you may see references to mass consumption, global economics and political warfare; or, like me, suddenly imagine an intimate email communication between two strangers on opposite ends of the world. Additionally, current ecological concerns command our attention through Muniz’s choice of discarded, and often noxious, computer hardware.
Muniz’s work is often distinguished by its exploration into the nature of photography itself. He makes us aware of how much we want to believe in the image. Yes, there is also gimmickry, but that is part of it too… Muniz wants to engage the viewer with a mechanical image that is almost inescapable, where they not only see the art, but they feel the artist’s vision. His work thrives somewhere between fiction and reality, concept and gesture, complexity and clarity, honesty and trickery. He is an artist-magician who shares his secrets, a Harry Houdini who has let us in on the illusion.