Vik Muniz has said he started using food such as chocolate syrup in his art because his studio was near the kitchen, and the edibles were close at hand. He realized that as long as he photographed the results, he could ‘draw’ with anything he liked. Over the years his materials have included caviar, dust, diamonds, spaghetti and trash, but the materials are not the point, Muniz says. Rather, he is interested in the mental distance a viewer has to travel to switch between seeing the sticky surface and the picture he has made in it—moving from glistening peanut butter and jelly to the Mona Lisa and back again.
Muniz is the subject of a retrospective at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, on view until August 21 and traveling to Indiana University Art Museum in the fall. The show includes more than 120 photographs spanning Muniz’s career, from his 1990s “Pictures of Chocolate” to his most recent projects harnessing the tools of science to grow microorganisms in decorative patterns or etch tiny pictures of castles on grains of sand, using a scanning electron microscope. The fact that Muniz’s images are photographs may sometimes seem secondary to his ideas, but his skill as a photographer is what allows them to shift between surface and picture. As he told an interviewer, “Even if I work outside, I have a studio photographer’s mind. I know that every single choice I make will change the meaning of the image. It becomes very important to orchestrate these choices so that they contribute to a very solid, closed, structural concept. Once I define the concept, I go about trying to find the best way to do it.”