“Pictures of Anything,” the first comprehensive exhibition in Israel of the work of Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, is currently on view at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Almost a retrospective, the show covers Muniz’s varied career and presents most of his best-known series of works, such as “Pictures of Chocolate,” “Pictures of Dust” and “Pictures of Junk.” The exhibition’s curator, Suzanne Landau, has chosen to hang the works chronologically, from one idea to the next, in order “to obtain a clear picture of the work and of Muniz’s development,” she says. “The exhibition’s chronological movement explains his work optimally.”
Muniz, who was born in 1961 to a working-class family in a poor quarter of Sao Paulo, is today considered the most successful Brazilian artist in the world, though he has lived and worked in New York since the 1980s. He makes use of odd and offbeat materials such as chocolate, dust, diamonds, jigsaw puzzles, cotton batten, barbed wire, sugar, toys and garbage. Landau views him as a conceptual artist who “introduces an additional process, of a mediatory character, between the ready-made and the outcome.” By using manipulations and playing games with scale and perspective, Muniz examines visual perceptions and representations, with direct reference to the annals of art, history and science. His illusionary works shift between the materials’ original three-dimensionality and the flatness of photographic prints.
At the end of the construction process, “Muniz records the new images with his camera, producing lasting hybrid imagery in which the material is often antithetical to the image rendered,” Landau writes in the catalog. The outcome of the process is a series of printed photographs, which “challenge conventional viewing and raise questions about appropriation, original and copy,” as the museum’s English-language website notes.
Thus, he reproduced a famous image of Che Guevara using black beans, and carried out similar reconfigurations, though with different materials, of works by Andy Warhol, Bas Jan Ader, Picasso, Klimt, Botticelli, Caravaggio and others. Another of the manipulations Muniz performs applies to the relationship between the size of the original image and the size of the image he creates. For example, the point of departure of one of the large works in the exhibition is a small painting by the German artist Gerhard Richter. Muniz, who attended the opening of the exhibition in Tel Aviv on March 28 (it will run until August 2), described himself as a “low-tech illusionist” in the catalog of his 2011 exhibition “The Imaginary Museum,” in Avignon. He went on to explain that “Working with materials sometimes means working with the very essence of what a material has to offer.” From his point of view, “The work defines the material and the material defines the work… My work process has always been about this paradigmatic bind between the materiality and the concept in a work of art.” Also on view, in a small, closed space in the exhibition is Muniz’s best-known work, seen in a splendid Oscar-nominated documentary film, “Waste Land,” by Lucy Walker. For three years, she filmed Muniz working at Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest rubbish dump, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Walker follows Muniz’s artistic collaboration with a group of catadores – garbage gatherers – who recycled garbage with the artist and used it to create their portraits.