Pictures of Junk by Vik Muniz

Pictures of Junk is a series where the artist works with garbage — outmoded exercise bikes, crushed soda cans, rusty chains and old tires — Muniz creates works after mythological subjects by famous painters, from Cranach’s Apollo and Diana to Bourguereau’s Orestes Pursued by the Furies. In this series, Muniz meditates on the artist’s eternal quest for the ideal in regard to specific historical environments. The choice of subject is aimed at exposing idealization as rhetorical simplification, as forms of Greek Gods and their cautionary antics appear — systematically crafted emptiness amid post-industrial rubble.

Working outside Rio, in a space the size of a basketball court, Muniz collaborated with art students from the favela. Each image was done one at a time over a period of month and a half. Only a basic outline of an image could be done in advance. The body of the work was composed by Muniz, directing his crew with a laser pointer from a scaffold high above. Muniz captures the image from this vantage point using a large-format camera. This angle creates puzzling discrepancies of scale.

Drawing is the basis of Muniz’s work. Here it is done so well and with such unconventional means, that it frees the viewer from thinking about the subject matter. The work forces one to consider the act of drawing itself.

Photographer and mixed-media artist Vik Muniz is best known for repurposing everyday materials for intricate and heavily layered recreations of canonical artworks. Muniz works in a range of media, from trash to peanut butter and jelly, the latter used to recreate Andy Warhol’s famous Double Mona Lisa (1963) that was in turn an appropriation of Da Vinci’s original. Layered appropriation is a consistent theme in Muniz’s work: in 2008, he undertook a large-scale project in Brazil, photographing trash-pickers as figures from emblematic paintings, such as Jacques-Louis David’s NeoclassicalDeath of Marat, and then recreating the photographs in large-scale arrangements of trash. The project was documented in the 2010 film Waste Land in an attempt to raise awareness for urban poverty. Muniz explained the work as a “step away from the realm of fine art,” wanting instead to “change the lives of people with the same materials they deal with every day.”

Muniz is best known for recreating famous imagery from art history and pop culture with unexpected, everyday objects, and photographing them. For example, Muniz’s Action Photo, After Hans Namuth (From Pictures of Chocolate), a Cibachrome print, is a Bosco Chocolate Syrup recreation of one of Hans Namuth‘s photographs of Jackson Pollock in his studio. The monumental series Pictures of Cars (after Ruscha) is his social commentary of the car culture of Los Angeles utilizing Ed Ruscha’s 60’s Pop masterpieces rendered from car ephemera. Muniz often works on a large scale and then he destroys the originals of his work and only the photo of his work remains.[5]

Muniz has spoken of wanting to make “color pictures that talked about color and also talked about the practical simplification of such impossible concepts”. He has spoken of an interest in making pictures that “reveal their process and material structure”, and describes himself as having been “a willing bystander in the middle of the shootout between structuralist and post-structuralist critique”. He cites the mosaics in a church in Ravenna as one of his influences.

Muniz says that when he takes photographs, he intuitively searches for “a vantage point that would make the picture identical to the ones in my head before I’d made the works”, so that his photographs match those mental images. He sees photography as having “freed painting from its responsibility to depict the world as fact”.


Atalanta and Hippomenes, after Guido Reni by Vik Muniz
Atalanta and Hippomenes, after Guido Reni (diptych) (Pictures of Junk) by Vik Muniz
Atalanta and Hippomenes, after Guido Reni (diptych) (Pictures of Junk) by Vik Muniz