Vik Muniz: Garbage Matters to open at Mint Museum Uptown August 25

Exhibition is part of The Mint Museum’s VantagePoint series

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Vik Muniz, a Brazilian contemporary artist who is known for transforming garbage  into re-creations of world-famous works of art, is the subject of a new exhibition opening August 25 at Mint Museum Uptown at Levine Center for the Arts, and running through February 24, 2013 (UPDATE: The exhibition has been extended to run through April 28, 2013).

Muniz’s re-creations of famous paintings are notable for their uncanny attention to detail and the non-traditional nature of the media he chooses. Muniz painstakingly gathers such discarded objects as tires, bolts, coils of wire, broken appliances, and soda cans, arranging them on a warehouse floor in piles and layers to create representations of iconic paintings by historical artists. After this labor-intensive process is complete, Muniz photographs the massive creation from a balcony above, thereby preserving the final appearance before the image is disassembled.

“Muniz mines the transformative power of art and representation. Muniz’s pictures enlighten us to better see the consumerist, transitory culture in which we reside and to which we contribute, by making beautiful imagery from the detritus of contemporary life,” said Carla Hanzal, the Mint’s curator of modern and contemporary art. “Muniz makes visible the refuse of consumption — the discarded, ugly, forgotten, and suppressed. The waste is transformed, through ordering and arranging, into venerated images, resulting in something entirely new and valuable.”

Muniz, born into poverty in São Paulo in 1961, has arguably become the most famous contemporary artist from his native country. His conceptual photographs are exhibited internationally, and he is represented in significant museum collections throughout the world. Beginning his art career in the mid-1980s after relocating to the United States, Muniz established a studio in Brooklyn.

“The beautiful thing about garbage is that it’s negative; it’s something that you don’t use anymore; it’s what you don’t want to see,” Muniz has said. “So if you are a visual artist, it becomes a very interesting material to work with because it’s the most nonvisual of materials. You are working with something that you usually try to hide.”

The exhibition consists of seven large-scale photographs, accompanied by comparative images of the historical works upon which they are based. It includes The Birth of Venus, after Botticelli (Pictures of Junk), 2008, which is a candidate in the Mint’s “Vote for Art” project. It is one of six works by some of the world’s top artists and designers that will be on display throughout the museum. Museum visitors will cast ballots for their three favorite works from the field of candidates, and the museum will acquire the three winning works and add them to its permanent collection. Visitors to the museum during the Democratic National Convention will be offered ballots, from September 1-7; voting opens to the general public October 1 through November 9.

In another tie-in to the Democratic National Convention, the exhibition includes a work that was a gift to President Obama. Marat (Sebastião), Pictures of Garbage, 2008, was generously loaned to the exhibition by the State Department Collection of the United States Government. It is modeled after the well-known painting by Jacques-Louis David, The Death of Marat, and named after Sebastião (Tião) Carlos Dos Santos, a man who made his living from the age of 11 by working as a “picker,” recovering recyclables at the world’s largest landfill, Jardim Gramacho, outside of Rio de Janeiro.

On September 16, visitors of all ages will be invited to experiment with Muniz’s techniques in a special Sunday Fun Day, “Recycled Masterpieces: The Art of Vik Muniz,” from 1-4 p.m. at Mint Museum Uptown. Admission is free for children and Mint members and half-price for adults ($5). The run of the exhibition will include two more special events: Muniz himself is scheduled to visit the museum on Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. for a FREE artist’s lecture; and the award-winning 2010 documentary film “Waste Land,” depicting Muniz’s work, is scheduled for a FREE screening at Mint Museum Uptown on Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 7 p.m.

Collectively, Muniz’s photographs bring to mind ideas of ecology, impermanence, and mortality. Muniz’s photographs implicate the viewer in a consumerist, transitory culture. His photographs fuse two important strands of postmodern photography — staging and appropriation. Staging is the creation of an image through choreographing all visual components of the photograph; appropriation is borrowing imagery from a source of reference, in this case historically significant paintings from the Western tradition. The resulting photographs are both fascinating and disarming, and probe the function and traditions of visual representation.

This exhibition is organized by The Mint Museum and is scheduled to travel to the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee to be on display from June 14-September 22, 2013. It is the tenth installment of VantagePoint, the Mint’s contemporary art series that emphasizes new developments in recent art practice. VantagePoint X / Vik Muniz: Garbage Matters exhibition and accompanying brochure are generously sponsored by the Goodrich Foundation.