Originally trained as a sculptor, Brazilian artist Vik Muniz produces visually dynamic works that are both playful and provocative. Many of his projects involve recreating well-known images or artworks with unexpected materials, such as thread, dust, and chocolate syrup, which he then photographs. At once easily recognizable and yet puzzling, Muniz's virtuosic imitations are designed not to fool the eye but to question our normal viewing habits. In other words, the artist invites viewers to decipher his illusions, to recognize not only the images he reproduces but also the processes by which he reproduces them. Muniz, therefore, does more than simply appropriate imagery from popular culture and art history; he reveals new and compelling relationships between subject matter, material, and production.
From his Pictures of Soil series, Bowl, 1998, is a canny melding of sculpture, drawing, and photography. To create the work Muniz first placed common potting soil mixed with small rocks, twigs, and leaves on top of a light box—a backlit box with a translucent surface normally used by photographers to view negatives. Then, by carefully removing some of the dirt with a small vacuum and thereby revealing the illuminated surface of the light box, he expertly "carved" out the shape of a bowl. Although the bowl appears to be a three dimensional object, perhaps reminiscent of an archaeological find, it is in fact an illusion formed wholly by emitted light. Muniz completed the piece by photographing the composition. The final photographic print is not only a document of his ephemeral creation, but also an exquisite visual pun that challenges the mechanics of perception. A gift of Heather and Tony Podesta, Bowl is the first photograph by Muniz to be acquired by the National Gallery and is an important addition to the growing collection of contemporary photography.
on verso, signed by artist, across top in graphite: Bowl AP 2/3 Vik Muniz 1998
Heather and Tony Podesta, Washington, DC; gift to NGA, 2009.