Friday, July 8, 2011

Miami Art Museum Collects Brazilian-born Artist Vik Muniz

It is indeed swimmingly delicious to have access to my own content, and to be able to drive my blog in the direction I choose. I very much appreciate this unusual opportunity!

There were so many years when the tyrannical pressure exerted by constant newspaper deadlines, not to mention the fact that I never quite got used to the sometimes quite wack-o things that not exactly artcentrically-sensitive editors would do to my copy drove my already anxiety-driven days...I must say it is a blessed relief to know that part of my life in Miami is over forever, and I NEVER forget how lucky I am to be typing this blog right this minute.

Of course, how and why I have access to my own content leads to a rather painful backstory, but I don't want to go there today or ever again. That part of my life is OVER!!

Today I want to say how thrilled I am to have received an email comment about my previous blog entry on Gordon Parks, pointing out insightful connections between the impassioned activism of Parks and Vik Muniz. So even though I had always thought this blog post today would be about other artists, I have decided to blog about Vik Muniz.

The Miami Art Museum owns a number of exciting works by Vik Muniz. Additionally, very soon the museum will display one of those: "Cloud Cloud, Miami (Pictures of Clouds)," from 2006. When you read the first Miami Herald I have typed on my blog today, you can learn about how that work was created. I think it is very synergistic of MAM that it will soon present a solo show by another Brazilian artist, Rivane Neuenschwander; her show runs from July 17 to Oct. 16. For more info, see

I also want to say CONGRATS to Mark Handforth, who has lived and worked here for a number of years. This just in...The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is presenting the "MCA Chicago Plaza Project," from July 9 to Oct. 10. It will feature four of Mark Handforth's dynamic sculptures inspired by the urban language of the city. For more info, see

In my 6/26/2011 blog post, "Miami Dade College Entrusted with Cintas Cuban Art Collection," I mentioned the returning veteran from the war in Iraq, with whom I had worked at the College Prep Writing Lab of Miami Dade College, Kendall campus. I remain quite impressed by his perseverance and bravery, and think I was remiss by not mentioning how much I admired him when he told me he had taken part in events to help other veterans deal with the frightening consequences of PTSD.

Additionally, I want to give a major shout-out to all my artcentric friends who have taken action to show their support of this amazing project, The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation. For more info about this project, see

Also, here are two shows in Wynwood I hope to see before they close because they include such terrific artists and suggest such clever ideas:

"Food, Home, Love" at Edge Zones Art Center, 47 NE 25th St., Miami In particular, I hope to see work by Harumi Abe, Carlos Alves, Duane Brant, Pip Brant, Charo Oquet, David Rohn, Kristen Thiele, Pedro Vizcaino, Michelle Weinberg, and Barbara Young.

"Home: Dream Home" at Praxis International Art, 2219 NW 2nd Ave., Miami Here are just some of the artists whose work I hope to see: Loriel Beltran, Teresa Diehl, Natasha aka Nat Duwin (you can also see more of her work as part of my Summer Critic's Choice at ), Guerra de la Paz, Michael Loveland, Ernesto Oroza, Gavin Perry, Bert Rodriguez, David Rohn, Kristen Thiele, Mette Tommerup, and Kyle Trowbridge.

Here's my Miami Herald story re Vik Muniz from February of 2006.


This weekend, no matter what the weather forecast says, there will be an extraordinary cloud in the sky over Miami (not like the ones on Saturday, don't worry).

Traced in the air by a professional skywriter in a former military plane, this "cloud"--a perfect, childlike drawing--will appear several times in the skies over Miami between today and Monday. Each time--between 10 a.m. and noon, even possibly in the early afternoon--the mock cloud will last about 10 minutes before it floats away. Best places to catch a glimpse: Near downtown and from Miami Beach.

This drifting drawing--"Cloud Cloud" by Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz--is artwork both public and ephemeral, produced by the Miami Art Museum, on the occasion of the museum's show about Muniz that opens Friday and runs through May 28.

Wispy trails of skywriting are just one of the more unusual materials that this well-known contemporary artist has used in his eccentric, amusing, and thoughtful art that has been admired since the late 1980s in shows in Brazil, Spain, and Ireland, as well as in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Muniz, 43, has also made drawings, which he then photographs, with chocolate syrup, sugar, ketchup, and even Cheese Doodles. His show at MAM will include more than 100 works. Many are his photographs of his easy-to-recognize but fleeting drawings with materials rarely recognized as art materials.

"I like working with things that change over time," explains Muniz in a phone interview from Rio de Janeiro, where he keeps a studio, in addition to one in Brooklyn. "It becomes something you can wonder about. It recovers the magic of drawing."

Not all his experiments with eccentric materials have worked. He says that attempts to draw with M&M candies and snow failed miserably.

But drawing via skywriting has been a grand success. "Clouds are like vessels for meaning. Who has not looked at a cloud and seen a shape in it?" Muniz asks.

"Cloud Cloud" was first produced in New York in 2001 by Creative Time, a nonprofit organization that presents public art in New York. "It was one of our greatest crowd pleasers. The response was nothing less than astounding," says Anne Pasternak, president of Creative Time.

"We got children's drawings, poetry, paintings, and just tons of fan mail because people loved it so much. It was one of those moments that makes living in a city so special. People had never thought about the sky as a place for art. Some people saw a heart, people saw whatever they wanted," says Pasternak.

"In a city where you don't tend to look up, people who chanced to look up were rewarded with this magical sight," says Lorie Mertes, the MAM curator who's overseeing the Miami edition of this skywriting project.

"When you think about the absurdity of can see someone in the act of drawing," Mertes adds. "It's an amazingly public way of seeing something that's normally private. There's a great sense of humor about it. You think, 'That's not so unusual to see the shape of a cloud in the sky,' and then you go, 'Wait a minute!' and then you smile."

Mertes hopes weather will allow professional skywriter Wayne Mansfield to make flights for drawing "Cloud Cloud" over Miami twice a day on each of the four days. "He draws a very specific shape Vik has envisioned. With each flight he draws approximately four times," she says.

To folks scanning Miami skies this week, "Cloud Cloud" will show Muniz making art of the double-take. "He works with very familiar images and somehow makes them strange," says Peter Boswell, who curated "Vik Muniz: Reflex" for MAM. This strangeness is part of what makes the artist's work amusing, but sliced with a thoughtful and critical edge.

"You do a double-take and realize it is not what you thought it was," he says. "It makes people think about what they are looking at. It deals with the manipulation of images."

Here's my review re Vik Muniz, from The Miami Herald from March in 2006. (In this version, I wrote my own sub-heads, because there apparently were none when it was first published. Not sure why--guess it is just one of those many, many things I will never understand, so I may as well just give up trying to figure them out, and continue to count my blessings EVERY DAY.)


When the tide washed away his favorite book, the one that Vik Muniz found at a garage sale in the early 1980s in Chicago and then left behind at the beach, he found his true calling as an artist.

It was not a calling to create new images, as Claude Monet had done with his famous Impressionist painting of light-dappled and delectably blurry water lilies. It was to copy them--as Muniz did years later when he cut up scores of magazines to evoke a green-blue semblance of Monet's abundantly familiar art historical icon. Then he photographed it, making the photograph his own creative version of his uniquely hand-crafted copy.

That creative version is "Water Lillies, After Monet (Pictures of Magazines)." It's one of more than 100 works now at the Miami Art Museum in "Vik Muniz: Reflex," a truly memorable show of Muniz's unusually familiar art.

These "copies"--call them creative versions--come in series based on the materials that Muniz uses. This quixotic artist delights in experimenting with oddball materials like chocolate syrup, diamonds, dust, and dirt--substances that can exist beyond their shelf life as photographs of themselves.

His self-portrait is part of the same series to which "Water Lillies, After Monet" belongs. It's composed of hundreds of circles punched out from magazine pages and then photographed, making the scale of the materials difficult to judge. The punched-out circles photographed in Muniz's "Self Portrait (Pictures of Magazines)" do look abnormally large, but it's impossible to tell for sure from the image itself.


Muniz is fascinated with the way our minds make sense of images, both their shape and scale, and he has hit upon a way to make distinctive, deceptive art from that universal and magical process called perception.

In "Elizabeth Taylor (Pictures of Diamonds)," his photograph of his drawing in diamonds of the movie legend only seems to sparkle with diamonds as big as the Ritz. They owe their big sparkle to the big distortions of scale that photography makes possible. Muniz actually executed this drawing with diamonds the size of pinheads.

That special find from the garage sale, that book of photographs that he left behind on the beach in 1987, cracked open the door to his career as an artist. It was only when he had lost the book that the door opened wide.

That book was The Best of 'Life,' a compendium of well-known photographs by Life magazine photographers. If you belong to certain generations, you can probably picture in your mind many of them--like Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous image of the sailor passionately kissing a nurse when news came that World War II was over, or the one of little John-John saluting the funeral procession for his assassinated father, President John F. Kennedy.


As an immigrant far from his native Brazil, Muniz says the photographs in that book became like "family" to him, and he grew inordinately fond of them. When they were gone, he tried to recreate them in drawings. But his drawings were sketchy and incomplete. Like all memories, his memory of The Best of 'Life' was not picture-perfect, and neither were his drawings.

But, in a burst of mischief, he decided to photograph his drawings in soft-focus. To his amusement, when his photographs of these "memory drawings" were exhibited in a gallery, people thought they were poorly reproduced historical photographs. Exhibited as part of the Muniz show at MAM, these blurry black and white photographed drawings do seem to be historical relics. After a fashion, they are.

Muniz recounts this career-altering encounter with The Best of 'Life' in Reflex: A Vik Muniz Primer (Aperture, $39.95). This book stands as the catalogue for "Vik Muniz: Reflex," a traveling exhibit organized by MAM and curated by Peter Boswell.

Muniz's Life magazine "memory drawing" photographs come early in his show. They resemble one-line jokes--once you understand the trick the artist has played, part of their appeal is diminished.

Far more resonant images come later in the exhibit, particularly as the artist finds a way to make his appetite for oddball materials amplify the meaning of the image he is portraying. His art becomes more than a clever game of mischief-making double-takes--although for this artist, certainly mischief and medium are part of the message. At his best, Muniz loves to deflate pretensions cloaking art history.

He does just that in his amusing photograph of his rendering in gooey, dripping chocolate syrup of Hans Namuth's famous photograph of Jackson Pollock executing his legendary "drip" paintings.


More resonant work begins with the artist's 1996 "Sugar Children" series, such as Valicia Bathes in "Sunday Clothes (Sugar Children)" at MAM. These are photographs of drawings in sugar that Muniz made on black paper, working from snapshots he took of children he met during a 1995 vacation on St. Kitts. He also met the children's parents. He was haunted by the way the parents, who labored long hours for low pay at grueling jobs on the island's sugar plantations, seemed perennially tired. bereft of the youthful, vivacious charm he found so beguiling in the children of St. Kitts.

"I owe my career to those children," Muniz writes in Reflex. His photographs of his drawings in sugar capture images in typically fleeting materials, but this time the unusual material speaks more directly to the image--to the complex history and story to which these sweet young faces belong.

With his "Sugar Children" series, Muniz begins working more often with children, creating images that don't merely startle the viewer with his puckish penchant for the elaborately devised double-take.

Sometimes he has worked with the photographic memory of a famous child, one who is forever associated with a girl in a story legendary for her own magical, distorting changes in size. The child is Alice Liddell, for whom Lewis Carroll wrote his classic Alice in Wonderland. Muniz has photographed his drawing of Alice in a daunting clutter of colorful plastic toys in "Portrait of Alice Liddell, after Lewis Carroll (Rebus)." In his "Toy Soldier (Monads)," the plastic clutter of toys for playing war, including little soldiers, makes the double-take that his work launches both funny and uncomfortable.

His trickster portraits of iconic works in art history, like paintings by Monet and Gaugin, are fabulously clever, but they don't pack the punch that "Angelica (Aftermath)" does. The "Aftermath" series is one he did of homeless children in Sao Paulo. It's a series that makes you think about the deplorable state of these urban orphans, but it is not all preachy and political.

After much coaxing, Muniz photographed the children in poses they chose from an art history book. They are shown in grayish-white negative images, surrounded by the trash and confetti swept up from the streets after the city's Carnival celebration.

How telling that the children seem like eerie mirages, faint memories of masterpieces, and far less substantial than street garbage.


  1. curious rambles, one commentator is better than non.

  2. Part I

    This wonderful post on Muniz is an aptly poignant cap to my week, which was full of ostensible incitement, consequent inspiration, and a minor bout of self-inflicted trepidation. Let me explain- I am passionately devoted to the study, patronage, and administrative support of the visual arts, however; at times I am hung up by my timorous discomfort to actually share my ardent voice. Perhaps I somehow justify my apprehensions with the Voltairean wisdom expressed through his Candide, “il faut cultiver notre jardin.” (We must cultivate our own garden...) Our duty to contribute to the world in meaningful ways begins by cultivating our own mind (our own garden). But when is it ok to take the next step? Sometimes, I am trapped by the feeling I have so much more ‘cultivating’ to do for myself before I can be certain my contributions to the art world will be meaningful, that this current predicament has at times, kept me from wanting to put my work ‘out there’ beyond the boundaries of an email to limited recipients or a submission of my paper to a professor, or a contribution to a report at the office (given the assurance my work is part of the firm- not a direct product of myself). My personal inhibitions only cause my further admiration for artists’ bravery to put unbelievably personal work into the public sphere- for our benefit, our praise, our criticism, our interpretation and our perception.

    Here I am, measuring my every word in a comment I will post under an anonymous moniker- and I am still unsure of myself and anxious at the thought that my writing will be subject to judgment from strangers. I think back to my early years of learning how to write, when my progressive elementary school gave me a journal in which I was asked to write daily entries during the summer between first and second grade- using a method the school called- ‘inventive spelling’. A controversial term indeed (and undoubtedly the cause of my utter dependence on spell check) that magically unlocked a summer of uninhibited seven year old thoughts captured freely by pencil and paper. If only I could feel such uninhibited creative freedom again! As my innocence wore off, so did my obliviousness to criticism.

    I continue to push myself past the fear of my own knowledge (or lack thereof) and instead, onto a willingness to share. This week I was asked by one of my graduate professors to be a guest lecturer for her freshman class next week- would they take me seriously? Would they care what I had to say? Then, a calming thought came over me- my passion just might inspire someone in that freshman class- even if it’s just one person, maybe my care for art might inspire someone else to fall in love with it too.

  3. Part II

    In the documentary film “Waste Land” director Lucy Walker chronicles the more recent work of artist Vik Muniz, who, for a significant time, focused his photography on the deplorable living conditions and social injustices of the favela communities outside of Rio de Janeiro. In the film, Muniz’s work particularly focuses on members of the favela community of Jardim Gramacho, Rio’s largest landfill (also the world’s largest dump), who live and work among Rio’s garbage. The story of Muniz’s project is told beautifully- we fall in love with Muniz, with the inexplicable and overwhelming beauty of a landfill, and especially with his photographs, created with the help of this garbage picking community. The photos are composed of garbage picked from the landfill, transported to Muniz’s Rio studio, and organized into reinterpretations of canonical figural works, David’s “Death of Marat”, Picasso’s “Woman Ironing,” an iconic image of the Madonna and Child, a peasant worker evocative of peasants described in the paintings of Jean-Francois Millet. These figural images are recreated through the semblance of the favela garbage pickers, those compelling characters that we fall in love with through Walker’s story, the ones that leave the dump temporarily to help Muniz in his studio- encouraged to feel, with Muniz, a shared sense of ownership in the work. From beginning to end, the beauty and power of this film is marvelous- I highly recommend it to anyone who has not seen it.

  4. Part III

    Notably, the attitude of Muniz throughout the documentary is incredible- at one part of the film, as he reflects on his project, designed to raise awareness and support for these garbage pickers who desperately deserve a better life, Muniz muses, “I start thinking about how to help people and all of the sudden I feel very arrogant- who am I to help anybody, because at the end, you know, I feel like I’m being helped more than they are.”

    This quote brings me to the lovely account on this blog post of Muniz’s “Cloud Cloud, Miami.” Here is another brilliant example of how his work as an artist reaches people and transcends the stereotypically elite realm of art, achieving a beautiful articulation of our universal human conditions- good and bad.

    And how fortunate am I to live in a community like Miami where artists like Muniz, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Lydia Rubio, architect Frank Gehry and many, many others are inspired by the beauty of our sky, our water, and our unique population- full of diversity yet somehow evoking the opposite impression of a ‘melting pot’.

    Take for example, Gehry’s architectural design for the New World Symphony, which unprecedentedly engages the public through a design plan that includes an exterior wall, large enough to project live feeds of performances for a non-ticket holding audience- the public- the Miami community- who are encouraged to participate, to be a part of the audience, and to sit in the beautiful grassy outdoor commons of the music center campus, simply to enjoy the performance.

    Artists and architects like Gehry or Muniz that have created extraordinarily inclusive and accessible public works to benefit others and to be enjoyed by all, are the brave sharers to whom I so desperately look for motivation to compose my own personal achievements.

    The work of these artists, like the work of so many other treasured artists from whom I learn and admire, are my beautiful reminders that we cannot be the change in which we believe without putting ourselves, our work, our passion- out there- for public consumption, better or worse- beauty, flaws, and all. (Thank you Gandhi)

    These artists remind me we must always continue to cultivate our own garden but there comes a time in which we must share the harvest- and chances are, our generosity will yield unexpected reciprocity- or as Vik Muniz so humbly pointed out, when we try to help others, we might just end up being the ones who are helped the most.

    What a beautiful thought by which to live…

  5. New Publication Sheila Elias SOMEWHERE-ANYWHERE
    Artist Sheila Elias’ Mid-Career survey Somewhere-Anywhere, with Nova Southeastern University, traces the evolution of Elias’ art and vision through abstraction and figuration, object and performance, pop and expressionism. Foreword by New York critic Robert C. Morgan, Somewhere-Anywhere features the history of Elias’ art as interpreted by Los Angeles curator Peter Frank.
    Click on my name to TAKE A LOOK inside the book.