Vik Muniz uses humor to lure his audience in. “Humor and visual gimmicks operate at the most basic level of art appreciation. They create physical and perceptual responses that hold the viewer in front of the work a bit longer than usual. Once you achieve this tenacity, you can afford to be deep and erudite.” (Muniz, Vik. Reflex p. 19). The chocolate drip painting is a good example of Muniz’s humor at work. Teresa Annas points to the “Action Photo II (Jackson Pollock)” image in her The Virginian Pilot January 30th review of the Vik Muniz: Poetics of Perception show at the Virginia Museum of Modern Art. “He also used syrup, humorously so, to mimic abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock in the act of creating an ‘action’ painting, as famously captured by photographer Hans Namuth.”
I had a chance to see the show last weekend. It was the first time I’ve seen a group of Muniz’s work displayed together, and even though there were no Verso examples present, the show was definitely worth going to. The exhibition included images from the Pictures of Chocolate, Junk and Garbage photographs, Pictures of Magazines, Earthworks, Pictures of Color, Equivalents, Diamond divas, and a Medusa plate.
Seeing the large scale Pictures of Junk photograph “Vulcan Forges Cupid’s Arrows” was a highlight. The image definitely plays with perspective and perception as you move away from and towards the image. From far away the mythic image is what your eye is drawn to, but as you get closer to the photograph you start to focus on the materials themselves. It’s a flat image but the sensation of depth is there. I felt a sense of vertigo and could imagine standing high above the installation looking down at it. I found myself drawn to the individual items much more than I expected to. There is a fan, nets, tires, small red plastic items clustered together, rope, musical instruments, and so much more. There is a huge variety of textures and materials that from far away congeal together with their muted colors. Close up the spots of reds, blues, and yellows stand out and keep the eye moving around the image.
Other standouts for me were the Diamond images, mainly because diamonds seem so difficult to photograph, and also the Pictures of Magazines, again because in person it really allows to you move between the overall illusionistic image and the small details that appear in the materials themselves.