How Vik Muniz Reworks Iconic Paintings with Unconventional Materials

The Brazilian artist photographs reinterpretations of iconic images from art history created with some unlikely materials.

Vik Muniz, Dora Maar, After Picasso (2007) from "Pictures of Pigment." Est. $50,000–$70,000.

Appropriation of images or objects with little substantial changes to them is a long and revered method of artmaking. 20th century luminaries like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Deborah Kass pioneered this method, as well as artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Sherrie Levine, and it continues to appeal to contemporary practitioners. Brazilian artist Vik Muniz has developed a distinctive method of appropriating images within his practice.

Vik Muniz, Floor Scrapers, after Gustave Caillebotte (2011) from “Pictures of Magazines.” Est. $30,000–$50,000.

Primarily known for his work in photography, Muniz works predominantly with canonical images from art history and reconceptualizes them using untraditional, and often surprising materials, such as chocolate syrup, gemstones, ephemera, and accumulations of trash. These works at first glance are usually immediately recognizable by way of their antecedents—but with an obvious twist.

Muniz’s Floor Scrapers, after Gustave Caillebotte (2011) from the “Pictures of Magazines 2” series—included in Artnet Auctions’ Vik Muniz: In Focus sale, currently live for bidding—shows the three figures from Caillebotte’s original painting Les raboteurs de parquet (1875), however in this iteration they and the vignette they occupy are created from carefully torn out pieces of various print publications, such as fashion and news magazines. The subsequent photograph of the collaged pieces results in a piece that is several degrees removed from Caillebotte’s work, imbued with the contemporary associations of the magazine snippets and connotations of being created from materials intended to be ephemeral.

Vik Muniz, Mahana No Atua (Day of the Gods) After Gauguin (2005) from “Pictures of Pigment.” Est. $25,000–$35,000.

In Muniz’s “Pictures of Pigment” series, the artist further plays with the boundaries of traditional medium and genre by recreating images with raw, powdered pigments. In works such as Dora Maar, After Picasso (2007), also in the sale, referencing the 1937 work by Pablo Picasso Portrait de Dora Maar, the details of the latter’s work are meticulously recreated from raw pigment. Considerations around materiality, technique, and the various states of creation are brought to the fore, as well as questions around the life of an artwork. From the same series and engaging with parallel themes is Mahana No Atua (Day of the Gods), After Gauguin (2005), wherein the composition garners a distinct level of color saturation and clarity through the carefully arranged pigment.

Vik Muniz, Sunflowers, after Van Gogh (2002) from “Pictures of Colors.” Est. $5,000–$7,000.

While much of the initial allure of Muniz’s work can be traced to the works that inspired them, such as renditions of Andy Warhol’s Marilyns as in Reversal Grey Marilyn (2003) or Vincent van Gogh’s much beloved floral arrangement in Sunflowers, after Van Gogh (2002). Comprised of Pantone swatches, it is Muniz’s interventions that invite closer looking and deeper reflection. His choice of materials ultimately are what offer symbolic and thematic depth, and provide an avenue for Muniz—as well as the viewer—to investigate ideas around lived reality, perception, and contemporary society and culture.

Vik Muniz: In Focus is live for bidding now through June 27, 2024.

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