Brazilian artist Vik Muniz’s exhibition of famous paintings re-created using garbage is on display at Mint Museum Uptown. Look closely at the reworking of Botticelli’s iconic “Birth of Venus” and you’ll notice that in place of Venus’s long flowing hair are old frayed ropes.
“Venus is rising out of the half-shell of the sea,” says curator Carla Hanzal. “Here’s another Venus that’s literally rising out of a sea of garbage.”
The exhibit is called “Garbage Matters.” It’s a collection of several large photographs by Muniz, who collected any sort of trash you can imagine – tires, toilet seats, shoes, discarded pianos – and then spent months arranging them on the floor of his warehouse.
“And then he uses scaffolding several stories above the floor where he’s ultimately able to take a photograph of what he’s assembled on the floor and then make a print,” says Hanzal.
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One of those prints – a reworking of Jacques-Louis David’s “Death or Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat” – was presented as a gift to President Barack Obama during a trip to Brazil. It’s one of the photographs on display at the Mint, and it’s a mini tie-in to next week’s Democratic National Convention.
The choice of Muniz’s medium is no accident. Hanzal says there’s a message in all that trash.
“Garbage really does reflect our values,” says Hanzal. “It’s the material that we quickly cast aside, and it’s stockpiling in these giant landfills that we can see from space. I think it’s his way of drawing attention to the great monuments we’re leaving behind as a culture and also bringing what is considered really ugly, discarded and transforming it into something really beautiful.”