Vik Muniz, born in São Paulo, Brazil in 1961, is widely celebrated as one of the most innovative and creative artists of our time. His work is marked by a playful curiosity, a constant churning of creativity, and an inventive approach to reframing conventional perspectives on the world. Muniz, originally trained as a sculptor, came to photography by accident. He recounts how he began his career as a sculptor, and as he photographed his pieces to document them, he began to realize that the photos were really what he was after. His photography sought to capture the perfect angle of his sculptures, the perfect lighting, and the perfect exposure, so he could land on the exact vision he had imagined in his mind when he set out to sculpt.
Vik Muniz is best known for his remarkable translation of famous works by painters and photographers that are central to the canons of art history, an enterprise to which he has returned time and again In his career. “Translation” is the word to use, not copying. Vik Muniz’s works are translations because Muniz is not interested in simple replication but rather in re-creations.
He has used a surprisingly broad array of unusual-often very amusing-mediums to create his works, which are then photographed and turned into prints. This includes dust, caviar, thread chocolate syrup, trash, sugar, diamonds, and dirt. His work looks simple, but his art involves the introduction of multiple meanings in discrete layers. His final work is generally a photograph worth a thousand words and ideas. The subject of that photograph is a construction he has made of varied and unusual materials.
Over the years Martin Lawrence Galleries has acquired a significant body of Muniz works. Large prints that allow the viewer to see the subject from a distance, have been part of recent MLG exhibitions and continue to be celebrated by our collectors. Below are 10 of our Vik Muniz works that you can find at Martin Lawrence Galleries. We are proud and delighted to share them with you
1) Portrait of Olga in an Armchair (Pictures of Pigment)
Looking at Picasso's original Portrait of Olga in an Armchair (1918), Muniz has skillfully reinterpreted the famed portrait in his Pictures of Pigment series. He has seemingly perfectly recreated the vibrant color and detail of the embroidery on Olga's dress and the pattern on her fan. He has also beautifully captured Olga's sweet smile and soft gaze from Picasso's original painting. The portrait of Olga in an Armchair is a chromogenic print.
2) Black Marilyn (Pictures of Diamond Dust)
In 1953 Marilyn Monroe danced and sang to “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” in her blockbuster movie “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”. The performance is so deeply ingrained in popular culture that the song’s title has become part of the American vernacular.
And if diamonds are a girl’s best friend, then who better to depict in diamond dust than Marilyn Monroe? Given that, Black Marilyn (Pictures of Diamond Dust) is the ultimate in contemporary art featuring the star. Muniz has taken a familiar image of Monroe and transformed it through his radical adaptation of materials. The photographic image that informed Black Marilyn (Pictures of Diamond Dust) is one that Muniz has interpreted several times and in a variety of mediums.
3) Phantom of the Opera (Images in Caviar)
Phantom of the Opera is part of Muniz’s Caviar Monsters series which explores images of cinematic monsters such as Frankenstein, Dracula, the Phantom of the Opera, the Mummy, Wolfman and the Creature from the Black Lagoon - rendered in caviar. The slick, oily richness of the caviar becomes a glossy dimensional medium that creates depth within the photographic image. With these works Muniz achieves the near-impossible, conveying tactility that withstands the distance between the original process of creating the likeness and the viewer seeing a re-photographed image.
4) The Sower, after Van Gogh (Dry Version)
The Sower, after Van Gogh is a photograph of a composition of dried flower pods, sprigs of lavender, straw, dried seeds, and sticks. Muniz flower installation was inside the “Chapelle des Célestins-Place des Corps Saints”, Avignon in 2012. The flowers were assembled inside the cathedral in the south of France by students from the local high school. The floral “painting” was so huge it had to be photographed from a platform near the vault of the ceiling.
5) Guernica, after Pablo Picasso (Gordian Puzzles)
Probably Picasso's most famous work, Guernica is also his most powerful political statement, painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazi's devastating bombing of the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.
Guernica shows the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work has gained a monumental status, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace
Vik Muniz re-interpretation of Guernica comes in the form of a Gordian Puzzle. Each image of Gordian Puzzles has hundred of single puzzle pieces laid out, layered, and rotated by degrees to fit other pieces, so while the puzzles remains unsolved, the image is “solved”. In Vik Muniz’s own words: “It is very difficult to design a puzzle that seems accidental-and that was my intention”.
6) Bette Davis (Pictures of Diamonds)
Vik Muniz created portraits of elegant movie stars in diamond, as a nod to Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys who he credits as his major influences for the “Pictures of Diamonds” suite. The series, which developed slowly, resulted in an exhibition in Paris, and it is kind of a sample of techniques and attitudes that Vik Muniz was dedicated to.
7) Haystack, After Monet #3 (Pictures of Color)
The Haystack After Monet series, conceived for the Venice Biennale, represents the junction of two ideas. The Venetian tradition of creating a mosaic, and the digital camera. It was also inspired by the fact that in 2001, when the series was created, digital cameras sales outnumbered film camera sales. This sudden shift in technology sent professional photographers into a film-buying binge. Until a certain scale is reached, one cannot tell the difference between a digital photograph and a conventional one. Greatly enlarged, however, film pictures break into a foggy, chaotic grain, while digital images reveal grids of perfect monochromatic squares. The pixel, feared by many and respected by few, became the Che Guevara of the digital image revolution. The bitmap was the template of a new language every photographer would have to learn. It was inevitable; the world would be translated into these tiny grids. Therefore Vik Muniz decided to experiment with those “little squares” that had become so ominous, and set about to produce pixelated, yet absolutely clear images.
8) Diana (Gordian Puzzles)
Diana (Gordian Puzzles) is based on a 1985 photograph of Princess Diana at a British Embassy dinner and reception in Washington, DC. One instantly recognizes this famous visage yet the image is constructed with an unsolved puzzle and the result is a paradox of ‘Gordian’ nature. Positioned and layered in multiple directions, each puzzle piece shows its defined shape in black and grey tones, appearing to be tossed haphazardly and then painted.
In his Gordian Puzzle series, Vik Muniz features subjects that are instantaneously identifiable and perhaps ones that inspire our empathy. However, through the juxtaposition of the puzzle pieces, Muniz forces us to consider each’s unknowable and intractable essence. Behind every glossy image, there is a complexity and depth that can never be fathomed.
9) West Palm Beach (Postcards from Nowhere)
"In the Postcards from Nowhere series Muniz similarly explores ideas of memory, nostalgia and intimacy through his collection of vintage postcards repurposed to create vibrant vistas of iconic cities and landmarks around the world, including the Hong Kong and Shanghai skylines, the Great Wall of China, and Piccadilly Circus in London. Muniz is interested in the history of sending and collecting postcards as a recollection of one’s travels and a form of communication, which has since been replaced by the instantaneous nature of modern technology. The thick format of the vintage photographs collaged together, coupled with the studio lighting used to photograph them, result in a three-dimensional, tactile quality in these monumental photographs
10) Norms on Fire, After Ed Ruscha (Pictures of Cars)
Norms on Fire, After Ed Ruscha ( Pictures of Cars) is a digital chromogenic print inspired by Ed Ruscha’s work and from a total edition of 6 plus 4 artist proofs. The image is mounted to aluminum panel in artit’s frame.
To find out more about Vik Muniz, and his works at Martin Lawrence Galleries. Contact one of our Galleries.