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Vik Muniz - The Illusionist  [06/26/2012 03:00]

For twenty years, Vik Muniz’s use of jam, chocolate, confetti, diamonds, garbage (and other surprising materials) to reproduce major artworks has questioned the nature of artistic representation and fascinated collectors worldwide.

Vik MUNIZ's story has a somewhat providential ring to it. It is also similar to the scenarios found in the famous Brazilian telenovelas. Born in 1961 in a poor family in São Paulo, Vik Muniz was not good at school. Although a bad student, he was very good at drawing and at 14 he won a scholarship to attend drawing evening classes, acquiring a strong academic background and discovering a fascination for the masterpieces of art history. Before long he was studying books on scientific perception and visual psychology and he subsequently embarked on a career in advertising, a milieu naturally focused on the power of images and their manipulation. Then one day his lucky star took a perilous gamble: witness to a fight, he received a stab wound; but with the money he received from his aggressor, he moved to the United States. In 1984, he landed in Chicago on a one way ticket and settled two years later in New York, right in the middle of the city’s cultural golden age. The exciting atmosphere of the American art scene was a sharp contrast to that of his native country (in full military dictatorship), Vik Muniz’s decision to uproot himself ended up opening the doors to a brilliant artistic career.

Materials… and substances
By the late 80s, he was gaining notoriety with his series Memory Renderings whose starting point was an American bestseller The Best of Life which contained all the iconic images published by Life magazine between 1936 and 1972 and which he subsequently lost. Following this loss, Vik Muniz decided to draw his favourite images from the book from memory. He then photographed the finished drawings and blurred the images enough to partially erase the lines, making the traces of his gesture almost invisible. This series has so far seen little auction action (only 6 results since 1990) with a high of $13,000 for Memory Rendering of 3-D Screening (Christie's New York, April 25, 2006 his best result for a single print), while the portfolios have traded since 2009 at around USD 100,000. Using this process, Muniz quickly systematized a common genesis to his work: that of reconstructing the archetypes of art history or of collective memory using ephemeral or unstable substances which he then preserves for posterity via photography. Symptomatic of his boundless creativity, each series focuses on one category of raw material: chocolate syrup for the famous Picture of Chocolate, samples of Pantone charts (Picture of Color), pieces of paper punched from magazines (Picture of Magazines ), diamonds (Picture of Diamonds), recycled materials (Picture of Junk), pigment (Picture of Pigments) ... to name only the most emblematic. The alchemy of his work is in that wonderful mix that allows the mundane to become art.

A steady market
Since 1989, Vik Muniz’s art traveled all over the world and prestigious institutions have showcased his work in solo exhibitions in New York, Sao Paulo, Houston, Rome and Madrid, amongst other places. His talent has not escaped the Anglo-American market which is a reference for sales of South American art and in 1999 he already posted a result of $40,000 for a portfolio from his series The Best of Life (Christie's New York, October 5). The following year, he signed a result of $28,000 for a single print representing a Jackson POLLOCK painting from the Picture of Chocolate series (Action Photo, Christie's New York, October 12, 2000) taking his price index up 286% versus 1999. In 2001 he represented Brazil at the 49th Venice Biennal and, naturally, demand for his work rocketed, with Christie's fetching a record $64,000 for a portfolio from his Sugar Children series (New York, November 19, 2001).The popularity of certain series fuels the evolution of his best auction records: Picture of Chocolate, Picture of Blood, Picture of Diamonds and Picture of Pigments regularly produce new best results for single prints. As for his portfolios: The Best of Life and Sugar Children series are regularly climbing in value. For example, in 2007 a portfolio from the Sugar Children series dethroned his 2001 record when it was acquired for $140,000 (Sotheby's New York, May 16); in 2008 his Marylin from picture of Diamonds fetched $130,000 and in 2009, his Bloody Marylin (2001) fetched his latest record at $220,000 (Sotheby's New York, Nov. 12). In 2011, Vik Muniz generated the fourth best result for a Brazilian Contemporary artist with Elizabeth Taylor (From Picture of Diamonds) at $175,000 (Sotheby's New York, December 11, 2011). Present since 2008 in the world’s Top 500 artists ranked by auction revenue, his artworks generated more than $3.2 million on the secondary market in 2011. An unavoidable and popular artist, only 20% of his works are accessible for under $6,000. Currently, one would need a minimum of $3,200 to $6,000 to acquire an original work by Vik Muniz. However, this price almost exclusively concerns prints from an old series entitled Picture of Wire (images created with wire, 1994-1995). To acquire works from another series would require an investment of over $6,000, and the most emblematic works generally go for beyond $15,000.

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