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Vik Muniz: A Collector’s Guide


Vik Muniz

Vik Muniz is a Brazilian-born artist who combines his photographic and creative skills to examine how we define our modern society. Using familiar objects, Muniz creates images based on art history and popular culture, such as his Convergence: No. 10 (After Jackson Pollock) and Odalisque, after Gustave le Gray (from ‘Rebus’), both of which can be found in West Chelsea Contemporary’s collection. 

  1. Vik Muniz grew up in Brazil during an extreme political climate. Muniz grew up in the 1970s, a time of intense repression from the Brazilian government. According to Muniz, artists would insert metaphors in their works to address controversial topics that the Brazilian government typically restricted. This tool appeared multitudinously in Brazilian music of the 1970s. Having listened to such music at a young age opened Muniz’s eyes to the expressive myriad of which art offers. Drawing from expressive devices used by musicians like Caetano Veloso and the Tropicalia People, who sang love songs about flowers and beautiful things to conceal powerful messages, Muniz prefers “images to be like love songs.” By this, Muniz intends his art to slowly reveal its layered meanings and ultimate message to the viewer, rather than screaming it at them. Brazilian literature was also very influential for him as well. Using the term, “schizophrenic,” Muniz says that Brazilian literature trained him to see beyond representation. This layering of meanings found within Brazilian art of the 70s translated into Muniz’s modern work, where he embeds messages and symbols. 
Vik Muniz, Convergence: No. 10 (After Jackson Pollock) (2008) available at West Chelsea Contemporary
  1. He considers himself an artist from Brazil, but not a Brazilian artist While Brazil has shaped Muniz as an artist, he claims that his work is not exclusively about Brazil. Until he traveled away from Brazil and viewed an outside perspective of his home country, he had never truly evaluated Brazilian art. This made him notice that his work shared many elements with other Brazilian artists, not because they learned to practice the same way, but because their country fundamentally influenced them. When Muniz decided to become a visual artist, he was in the United States. His references were mainly American and European.
  1. Photography allows Muniz to see history through his own eyes. To learn history means to understand it through interpreted sources, according to Muniz. Muniz believes history is subjective. It is something that changes over time, and constantly reinterprets and retells itself through different lenses. Photography “freed painting from its responsibility to depict the world as fact” for Muniz, which is why he uses this medium to capture his personal truth of the world. Layers of representation can be found within a photograph, just as there are layers of representation in his own work. He uses photography as something that goes beyond representation; he uses it as a form of narrative. In doing so, Muniz creates a layered image that, through examination, slowly reveals more and more meaning. His intention is to depict what a story would look like within an image, capturing the subjectivity of history. 

“I was looking at European and American art through the eyes of a Brazilian person.” – Muniz

Vik Muniz, Odalisque (after Gastave le Gray) (2010) available at West Chelsea Contemporary
  1. Although his photographed subjects are also works of art, they are destroyed after being photographed due to his prioritization of the works meaning.  Vik Muniz has a “studio photographer’s mind.” Muniz centers his process around a technological language to communicate messages within the work. This language can entirely change the meaning of a photograph based on any choice that Muniz makes: the way the subject was shot, the angle it was shot at, the way Muniz wants the work to be seen, and the period it is intended to be seen through (20th c., 19th c.). Muniz’s philosophy that using photography captures an interpretive history through his own eyes charges the meaning of his work. The orchestrated choices Muniz makes collectively amount to a solid structural concept for the final piece. Since his subject matter and photographic style are relationship-based, the chronology of this process is less important than its execution. Sometimes he starts with a subject and then investigates a suitable process for it, and other times he searches for a subject to suit his predetermined process. The chronological importance within Muniz’s work determines the concept and technological language before he begins executing his process.
  1. Muniz’s work explores the relationship between object and image. Muniz doesn’t believe in originals, he believes in individuality. In this sense, he repurposes objects and art historical or pop-cultural subject matter to redefine their identity. This sort of “Duchampian” readymade approach to art seeks to create a completely new understanding of the material and the subject matter. Muniz then uses photography to further explore our contemporary relationship with object and image and how images have affected our relationship to the object. Since the industrial revolution and the boom of consumerism, Muniz believes that the image has greater value than the object it represents. Muniz’s work centers on the philosophy that images define our reality and that our process of consumption is now occurring through the image. His work seeks to contemplate our modern lifestyle and what defines it.
Vik Muniz, Kyber Pass, self-portrait as an Oriental (After Rembrandt) (2005)

“Handmade or handbroke, used, overgrown, dwarfed or simply pathetic, the art object should always behave like a freak, a continuous changing twisted mirror, challenging, cheating, destroying and outlining the meaning and importance of all the things around us.” – Muniz 

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What’s on now at WCC:

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West Chelsea Contemporary presents the Austin International Art Fair, a 7 week long, large-scale immersive exhibition featuring rare works by an impressive roster of international art world masters. Included in the show is father of Surrealism Salvador Dalí with an exceptional selection from the Argillet Collection. Additional featured artists include: Neo-surrealist Australian artist Gil Bruvel, Gary James McQueen, contemporary Chinese artists Zhang Xiao Gang, Yue Min Jun, and Zao Wu Ki, as well as Neo-Pop Japanese artists Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara.

Salvador Dalí | Zhang Xiaogang | Takashi Murakami | Yoshitomo Nara | Gil Bruvel | Yue Minjun | Gary James McQueen | The Connor Brothers | Edward Burtynsky | Maurizio Cattelan | The Love Child | Sofia Cianciulli | Peter Doig | Roberto Dutesco | Kate Garner | Claude Gassian | Damien Hirst | Liu Bolin | Raphael Mazzucco | Vik Muniz | Lyora Pissarro | Gerhard Richter | Gillie & Marc Schattner | Mila Sketch | Hunt Slonem | Matthew Trujillo | Victor Vasarely | Antoine Verglas | Albert Watson | Zao Wou-ki | Rimi Yang | Russell Young | Zhong Biao

Reach out today to inquire or acquire.

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