Narrative

Contemporary artist Vik Muniz uniquely combines materials in portrait photography to cross medias and provoke his audience. With shows all over the world featuring subjects from equally diverse backgrounds, Muniz is an international superstar in the world of art of the twenty first century.

Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1961, Vik Muniz was the only child born to a con artist and a telephone switchboard operator. Despite his fascination with literature, Muniz was a poor student by public school standards, often sent to the principal for doodling in class. One such teacher recommended he enter a public arts festival, for which he received a scholarship at a local art school for drawing and sculpture. Later he became a consultant and employee at a small advertising firm in Sao Paulo.

One night, after breaking up a fight, Muniz was shot in the leg by the victim, mistaken for his attacker. He gave Muniz a sum of money in exchange for him not pressing charges. With this money, Vik Muniz bought himself a ticket for America.

As the years went by, Vik Muniz became successful in the contemporary art scene of New York. In 1996, he traded a piece of art for a trip to St. Kitt’s. While enjoying the Caribbean beaches, Muniz befriended a group of young children learning to swim. He met their families who he found to be worn and tired from their work on the sugar plantations in contrast to their sweet children. He began experimenting with applying sugar to black paper to create a series of portraits he titled “Sugar Children.”

Timeline


“This book tells two stories: the first is that of our curious hero with his blunt instrument, and how he was able to extract from the same soil from which he took his knife the base materials to build lenses to outfit space telescopes, so that he could observe the universe’s most distant objects. The second story relates how a working class boy, born in Brazil, with a reading disability, became a writer and a subject of this book.” 



 

- 1961 – born in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Only child to a con-artist-turned-waiter and telephone company operator

“The factors that contribute to a person becoming an artist have nothing to do with when he starts-they have more to do with when everyone else stops.” 

“As I compulsively drew, another universe suddenly opened up for me. Drawing was not only a way to communicate ideas through pictures, but also a tool for understanding.” 

- 1975 – awarded partial scholarship through public arts school festival, at academic studio for drawing and sculpture. Attended for 4 years. 

- 1980 – showed his graphic design analysis of billboards in Brazil to an outdoor advertising company. Hired on the spot as a consultant. Went on to become staff.

“My first account (at the small advertising company) was with a company that made liqueurs. I was very excited about the possibility of airbrushing naked people frolicking inside the ice cubes in the ads. The client did not think that was a good idea, and then I realized it wasn’t the liqueur that I wanted to sell. I wanted to sell the ice cubes.”

- 1983 – shot in the leg, the victim/gunman was rich, used money to buy plane ticket to Chicago

- July 4, 1984 – took first trip to NYC. Moved there 2 months later. 

- 1980s – first began gallery shows of Gravity and Blindness, featuring changing the labels of several major minimalist masterpieces with his own name, often unnoticed for weeks

- 1996 – went to visit exhibition of Tibetan monks’ sand mandala. Witnessed its destruction.

“The moment after the monks had finished the last touches of the mandala, they started sweeping it up to throw it away in the river. That’s when I got there. With my Western eyes, the sight of all that excruciating labor, the creation of such a myriad of ever-evolving patterns, being casually amalgamated into a meaningless grayish powder made my gums bleed. Next to me, a monk watched the ritual of destruction with a happy face. […] I then asked him if he was not feeling a little sad to see all the work he’d done being literally thrown in the garbage. To which he replied no, and then proceeded to explain the importance of the voyage and the meaninglessness of the destiny, along with other monkish matters […] I insisted: not even a tiny, tiny bit of regret? He said no, not a tiny, tiny, bit. […] I kept pestering his shaved head for the remainder of the ceremony until, finally bursting, he reached into the folds of his orange robe and took out a camera, which he shook at my face, crying “Okay, okay! I took some pictures! What’s wrong with that?!” “Nothing,” I replied. “But are you sure the camera was loaded?”

- 1996 – traded art piece for trip to St. Kitts. Created “Sugar Children” series.


I’m always looking at how a thing ends up like it does. Sugar Children is an example of that. I was down in the Caribbean when I saw sugarcane workers’ children. They were wonderful. But their parents were so sad, really hard people. I realized they take the sweetness out of the children by making them work in the fields. It’s very hard work. All the sweetness from them ends up in our coffee. So I made drawings of them from sugar. I’m interested in that kind of transformation.”

            

Misc. Quotes

“I don’t believe in originality as much as I believe in individuality.”

“I am a very traditional artist, as a draftsman as well as a photographer, but the unlikely encounter of these tow media is what gives my work a contemporary character. The moment the two forms meet is a moment of truth where new forms are born.”

“There’s something redeeming about the bare mechanics to produce an image. I don’t want to amaze you with my powers to fool you.”

“I have been called an illusionist, but I have always considered myself a twisted kind of realist.”

“I’m almost religious about light. Every- thing is there. We divide it, we organize it so we can understand it a little better. We perceive it in a wave that is broken, so we understand shapes and forms and every- thing else we see, but it’s all in there. It’s the closest thing you can think of to God itself, this pure light. But we always need somebody human to tell the story. There’s always a trickster who carries the message of the gods.”

“I think art, without the pretense of being more than a visual exercise, can indeed be powerful and complete. I am quite annoyed by the “about-ness” of contemporary art. I find that it’s not enough of a mission when art is supposed to be about one thing or another because to be art, to begin with, it should be about everything at once. It should present a kind of all-encompassing world. When you look at the portraits of Rembrandt, you see an artist who looked at his whole world—every- thing is there […]in every portrait you see an entire world. It’s simple and enormously ambitious at the same time. Rembrandt makes me want to be an artist, and sometimes he makes me want to quit being one.”

“Vision is a form of intelligence, even more so than hearing. Our human eyes are not nearly as good as birds’ eyes or many other animals’. Instead, we have a huge visual cortex devoted just to analyzing visual stimuli. That is our true eye. I have a theory that the intellect has evolved from our inability to see everything in focus, the eye has to move to see things and by doing so it introduces the concept of narrative and the attention that is necessary for any complex idea to form.”