29.10.–20.12 2008
Vik Muniz
Solo exhibition at Arndt & Partner, Berlin

Vik Muniz, solo exhibition at Arndt & Partner, Berlin Vik Muniz, solo exhibition at Arndt & Partner, Berlin

Brazilian artist Vik Muniz will be presenting his first solo show in Germany at Arndt & Partner, Berlin. We will be showing pieces from four bodies of work on both levels of the galleries at Checkpoint Charlie. There are two basic procedures that give direction to Muniz’s work. Using ephemeral or fragile materials, and applying great skill in the construction of objects and drawings, Muniz recreates images drawn from the canon of art history or from current events: he reproduces Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper out of chocolate syrup; based on a record of the exhibition, he replicates a Donald Judd sculpture with dust taken from the Whitney’s halls and galleries; and with sugar he makes copies of photographic images (made by him) of children who live near the plantations that grow his raw material. He then photographs these perishable reconstructions and throws them away, keeping only the photograph. This method of remaking and then preserving the chosen images helps bring together different times and attributes. The material recreation of the originals is done slowly, with a craftsman’s art, calling attention to the way it was made. The photographic record, on the other hand, is instantaneous. It does not require any skill and it takes place at the exact moment when the camera shutter blocks, for the artist, the vision of the image he has created. By means of this operation both complex and candid, Muniz weakens the strong connection that one would expect to exist between the photographs and the images that inspired them, turning photography into a more opaque medium, forcing the observer to take more time to define what exactly is being represented.

Muniz is not using the procedures of representation in order to attenuate the viewer’s interest in the appropriated images’ subjects. Modifying what is usually expected from photography – generally seen as merely denotative – Muniz is really inducing our gaze to distance itself, for at least a little while, from the referents described in the photographs. He is suggesting in these remade images new meanings and a distinct rhetoric. By associating the content of the chosen images with the symbolic and formal properties of the processes and materials with which he reproduces them – and then making a photographic record of this tense union – Muniz is creating and perpetuating something that formerly did not exist. Instead of dissolving the subject’s importance, the careful investigation of the reconstructed images – stimulated by the charm or strangeness that they gain through their new form – lets us see once again, even if in a manner different from how they were previously known, scenes, figures, or things that have become invisible through their excessive familiarity. In spite of the alterations or additions of meanings provoked by the mechanisms used to reproduce these images, their iconic character is preserved in Muniz’s photographs.1 The enigma of Mona Lisa’s smile or the banality of a pair of binoculars is maintained in the reconstruction of these images with peanut butter and jelly, in one case, and earth, twigs, and leaves in the other. And even if the nature of the materials used to recreate these images sometimes makes them comic or declassifies them, the often transient nature of these substances ends up affirming, by contrast, the integrity of the referents that Muniz has used. It is necessary to explain exactly what kind of illusionist Vik Muniz is. If he does not cover up his methods of construction – which can be mentally reconstituted by anyone looking at his photographs – he also doesn’t hide or disguise the origin of the images that he reproduces. An attentive viewer will identify the substances employed (whether ketchup, spaghetti, or ashes) and, to a varying degree that depends on the observer’s visual culture, he or she will also identify the original images. Without proposing new hierarchies, Muniz simply confounds old meanings with new ones and tries to express, visually, “the worst possible illusion”: that which is effective and yet at the point of breaking up.2 Contrary to all the expectations that the word’s signification authorizes, Muniz is proposing an ethics of illusion, where what is hidden in one instant becomes evident the next.

The competing effects of discomfort and identification perceived all at once when facing Vik Muniz’s photographs – testimonies to the ambiguity with which he reintroduces, for all of us, the world’s visual repertory – depend largely on the careful articulation between the appropriated icons and the methods used to reproduce them. Yet there are no set rules to create this synergistic meeting between message and medium. Sometimes, it is the images themselves, images which Muniz has become familiar with for various reasons, that indicate the most appropriate materials for their representation. Yet the greatest interest of Muniz’s work lies not in explaining the images used, nor in the appropriateness of his raw materials’ formal aspects for the facts described in the images. It is the symbolic uproar created by the approximation between the works’ referents (immediate and distant) and the materials used for their reconstruction – allied with the surprising relations of scale with which they are often put together and enlarged on photographic paper – that make these photographs an excellent platform for the emergence of what images and materials separately cannot enunciate.

Much in agreement with the ambiguous nature of Muniz’s work is perhaps the visual system of the Baroque, in assuming the opacity of the reality that it represents and the concomitant impossibility of portraying it precisely. Taking ambivalence as a value, Muniz does not try to reduce the visual experience to only one dimension, nor does he try to bring together the diversity of viewpoints that an image supports – the referent, the material in which it is presented, and its various meanings – into an impossible synthesis. Fascinated by the folds, fissures, and gaps that discredit the faculty of seeing, Muniz focuses on the disorientation of vision before that which it cannot take in ready made, and on the almost ecstatic nature of the recognition of this insufficiency. He is thus betting on an observer’s lengthy engagement with his works and on the sensuality of contemporary visual experience. Moacir dos Anjos (excerpt from the author’s essay in the book Vik Muniz: Obra incompleta / Incomplete works, Rio de Janeiro: Ministério da Cultura, Fundação Biblioteca Nacional, Safra Instituto Cultural, 2004) 1 Fernando Cocchiarale, Sobre a Poética de Vik Muniz: Matéria, Imagem e Memória, in Vik Muniz, exh. cat., Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2001. 2 Vik Muniz and Charles Ashley Stainback, Vik Muniz and Charles Ashley Stainback: A Dialogue, in Vik Muniz, Seeing Is Believing, Santa Fe: Arena Editions, 1998.

Vik Muniz born in 1961 in São Paulo. He lives and works in New York. Since the early 1990s he has been present with solo exhibitions at galleries in Brazil, the U.S., Europe and Asia, and in institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2001), the Menil Collection, Houston (2002), the MACRO – Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma (2003) and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (2007). In 2001 he and Ernesto Neto were responsible for the Brazilian pavilion at the 49th Venice Biennial. He has participated in numerous group exhibitions at leading museums in New York, such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, as well as at the Art Institute of Chicago. Recent exhibitions include Surfaces Paradise: Vik Muniz, Thomas Ruff and Gary Carsley, Museum voor Moderne Kunst Arnhem (2005); Inverting the Map: Latin American Art from the Tate Collection, Tate Liverpool (2005); Into Me / Out of Me, P.S.1, New York (2006) and KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2007); and Defining Moments in Photography 1967–2007, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2007).