A bird on a wire, a shirt on a wire hanger, a wirebound notebook, a roll of toilet paper hung from wire; these images, and many more, would seem to reflect a fascination with wire on the part of artist Vik Muniz, but the fascination lies elsewhere. Instead, the artist is fascinated with the perceptions he generates by playing with wire - or thread, sugar, soil, cayenne pepper or chocolate syrup. The aforementioned images are made from wire - and then photographed so that they resemble line drawings.
"Valentina, the Fastest," from "The Sugar Children" series, by Vik Muniz
Brazilian-turned-New Yorker Vik Muniz, whose exhibit of the same name is on view in the Indianapolis Museum of Art"s Forefront Gallery through April 13, spoke to a packed lecture hall Saturday night, sharing the impetus behind his work and its playful, Duchampian nature. "I never thought that someone could make a living from thinking, from ideas, from playing," he confessed. Muniz, whose early fascination with theater influences the perception-challenging nature of his work, studied academic drawing for three years but hadn"t thought about being a visual artist, he says, until recently. In just a few years, the artist"s career has taken off with unprecedented vigor. He has exhibited his work all over the world, including solo shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney and the Centre National de la Photographie in Paris. His cleverly conceived and precisely realized work has been reviewed by equally prestigious newspapers and journals. Muniz, though, is not pretentious. He believes in entertaining audiences but not superficially. His art springs from a heady tradition but is more accessible than the early conceptualists who were more likely to befuddle the masses than to draw them in. Duchamp and the early conceptualists gave artistic merit to the mundane by converting everyday objects into art - but the objects no longer contained recognizable meaning. Muniz is equally irreverent, but he turns conceptualism on its head: He uses mundane materials to recreate the things and images we do recognize, and thus invites us to look at them anew. Unlike many of the early conceptualists, though, Muniz can draw, and this is indeed how he pulls off his visual trickery. "Art is a little bit about falling for things," Muniz believes. "We love things that resemble things." One is easily impressed with the artist"s skill, and then that moment of deeper recognition hits. "Something about drawing helps [us] to see the world," Muniz adds, whose first foray into visual art "was to devise work with the matter itself." Pieces such as "Crown Skull" (included in the IMA exhibit) is among his "objects that had identity crises." In this case, the skull has the bulb nose of a clown, but in skeletal form. Muniz"s more recent work evolved into his pictures series, which speak to the ephemeral nature of using materials that spoil. His chocolate syrup painting of Jackson Pollock making one of his famous drip paintings, for example, or his soil rendering of a fish, are not easily preserved; and for Muniz, this is partly the point. His images are then photographed in very limited editions, and these reflections are all that remain. "When we imagine an object, we imagine it from a different point of view Ö photography doesn"t give you a reality of the world, but it gives you the point of view of a specific person." Thus Muniz asks us to step first into his world, and then into our own. Muniz gives us the ultimate Rorschach test. Or to put it another way, "What you see is what you want to see Ö I think artists are not supposed to have answers, they"re supposed to ask tricky questions." Vik Muniz, organized by guest curator Katherine Nagler, is the museum"s last contemporary exhibit before the third-floor galleries close for renovation. Vik Muniz is on view through April 15, 2003, at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, 4000 Michigan Road, 923-1331, www.ima-art.org.