Where Art Meets Trash and Transforms Life

Vik Muniz in the New York Times

The photographer Vik Muniz often says that while he considers himself an American artist, his use of imagery owes everything to Brazil, where he was born and raised.


“I’m a product of a military dictatorship,” he said recently. “Under a dictatorship, you cannot trust information or dispense it freely because of censorship. So Brazilians become very flexible in the use of metaphors. They learn to communicate with double meanings.”


Certainly his photographs are filled with the visual equivalent of double entendres. At first each seems to present a familiar image or artwork. But examine the picture up close, and it turns out to be made from surprising mediums, like Bosco syrup, which Mr. Muniz once dribbled across vellum to recreate Hans Namuth’s photograph of Jackson Pollock making a drip painting; peanut butter and jelly, from which he molded a Warholesque “Double Mona Lisa”; or plastic toy soldiers, which he used to recast a Civil War photograph of a boyish-looking private.


This penchant for multilayered imagery may be one reason Mr. Muniz, a puckish 48-year-old who has been an art world fixture for more than a decade, is now a celebrity in Brazil. In the last two years his traveling retrospective, simply called “Vik,” has been in five cities there, achieving record attendance. He has also funneled much time and money into nonprofits (which have flourished in Brazil’s democracy), most of which are located in Rio de Janeiro, and intended to provide education and job training for street children.

21 October 2010