Throughout his photographic career, Vik Muniz has long established alternate ways of creating images through use of unconventional and often unexpected materials. Such a practice organizes nicely into Vik Muniz: Garbage Matters, Muniz’s exhibition of classical images in two series now on view at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville [June 14-September 15, 2013]. Exactly what they sound like, Pictures of Junk and the monumentally scaled Pictures of Garbage recreate and reconsider iconic images through refuse gathered from a landfill near his Rio de Janeiro studio.
For the easily impressed, the idea of recreating Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus in a complex pattern of trash is a showcase in itself. But the work is more than just clever appropriation; the deeper conversation on idealization is where Garbage Matters makes the most impressive statements. Through subject matter and material decisions, Muniz questions the diversity of high and low art, the history of Western context affecting the valuation of art, and how contemporary society defines the value of objects through acts of creating and discarding. It’s a weighty discussion, brought home by the personal involvement: Muniz immortalizes the faces and social issues of the workers whose livelihood depends on the landfill, and who collaborated to create the series.
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