New Medium, New Method: Vik Muniz Veers from Photography In his Latest New York Show

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Artist Vik Muniz has made a career of challenging perceptions and showing us new ways of looking at things. Pointing his camera insightfully at a variety of mediums and sampling from a vast library of cultural and social references, Muniz, ironically, uses the surface to go deep, inviting us to look carefully and indulge in his personal interpretation of what we are seeing.

At his recently opened exhibit, Epistemes, running through April 1 at Sikkema Jenkins Co. Gallery in Manhattan, Muniz introduces a whole new body of work that is still in line with his conceptual approach, but here he employs a method to create original images that are all his own. Gone are the recognizable visual mentions he so skillfully sourced and re-interpreted throughout the years. Instead Muniz deploys a bold, highly graphic vocabulary to compose abstractions that are at once contemporary in the making and have a distinctive modern feel.

The name Epistemes is a reference to the Greek term used by philosopher Michel Foucault to describe the set conditions for production and development of knowledge at a certain period, in this case, aptly applied to Muniz’s work arc. As communication becomes increasingly visual with images commonly standing in for words and whole sentences, Muniz’s never-ending curiosity about how and what we see has produced a new body of work that both informs and delights.

In Epistmenes he brings together his penchant for material experimentation with forays into myriad alternative art-making methods, like cut outs, collage, found objects, stitching, bas-relief, and etching, but always within a photographic context. Indeed, the photograph is very much part of the essence of the concept—be it intertwined with, merged, resting upon it, or cut from it.  

This premise engages the viewer as a playful guessing game of where the craftsmanship ends and the photograph starts. “It always goes both ways. What you expect to be a photo isn’t, and what you expect to be an object is a photographic image,” Muniz says.

The work also comments on the digital photo manipulations that are possible today, making it almost impossible to discern an original image from a photoshopped creation, which is even more relevant now as we largely experience images solely on screens. As Muniz puts it, “In a time when everything’s reproducible, the difference between the artwork and its image is all but nonexistent.”  

Next for Muniz is a venture into yet another new medium, with a site-specific glass sculpture conceived by him and produced by renowned Venetian glass maker Studio Berengo. The piece will be featured at his upcoming exhibition, Afterglow: Pictures of Ruins, taking place at Palazzo Cini in Venice (from April 21 to July 24) with 9 large-scale photos inspired by historic artistic renditions of Venice from the Vittorio Cini Collection. 


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Photo by Paul Clemence

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