Friday July 8, 2011

It is indeed swimmingly delicious to have access to my own content, and to be able to drive my blog in the direction I choose. I very much appreciate this unusual opportunity!

There were so many years when the tyrannical pressure exerted by constant newspaper deadlines, not to mention the fact that I never quite got used to the sometimes quite wack-o things that not exactly artcentrically-sensitive editors would do to my copy drove my already anxiety-driven days...I must say it is a blessed relief to know that part of my life in Miami is over forever, and I NEVER forget how lucky I am to be typing this blog right this minute.

Of course, how and why I have access to my own content leads to a rather painful backstory, but I don't want to go there today or ever again. That part of my life is OVER!!

Today I want to say how thrilled I am to have received an email comment about my previous blog entry on Gordon Parks, pointing out insightful connections between the impassioned activism of Parks and Vik Muniz. So even though I had always thought this blog post today would be about other artists, I have decided to blog about Vik Muniz.

The Miami Art Museum owns a number of exciting works by Vik Muniz. Additionally, very soon the museum will display one of those: "Cloud Cloud, Miami (Pictures of Clouds)," from 2006. When you read the first Miami Herald I have typed on my blog today, you can learn about how that work was created. I think it is very synergistic of MAM that it will soon present a solo show by another Brazilian artist, Rivane Neuenschwander; her show runs from July 17 to Oct. 16. For more info, see

I also want to say CONGRATS to Mark Handforth, who has lived and worked here for a number of years. This just in...The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is presenting the "MCA Chicago Plaza Project," from July 9 to Oct. 10. It will feature four of Mark Handforth's dynamic sculptures inspired by the urban language of the city. For more info, see

In my 6/26/2011 blog post, "Miami Dade College Entrusted with Cintas Cuban Art Collection," I mentioned the returning veteran from the war in Iraq, with whom I had worked at the College Prep Writing Lab of Miami Dade College, Kendall campus. I remain quite impressed by his perseverance and bravery, and think I was remiss by not mentioning how much I admired him when he told me he had taken part in events to help other veterans deal with the frightening consequences of PTSD.

Additionally, I want to give a major shout-out to all my artcentric friends who have taken action to show their support of this amazing project, The Early Childhood Initiative Foundation. For more info about this project, see

Also, here are two shows in Wynwood I hope to see before they close because they include such terrific artists and suggest such clever ideas:

"Food, Home, Love" at Edge Zones Art Center, 47 NE 25th St., In particular, I hope to see work by Harumi Abe, Carlos Alves, Duane Brant, Pip Brant, Charo Oquet, David Rohn, Kristen Thiele, Pedro Vizcaino, Michelle Weinberg, and Barbara Young.

"Home: Dream Home" at Praxis International Art, 2219 NW 2nd Ave., Here are just some of the artists whose work I hope to see: Loriel Beltran, Teresa Diehl, Natasha aka Nat Duwin (you can also see more of her work as part of my Summer Critic's Choice ), Guerra de la Paz, Michael Loveland, Ernesto Oroza, Gavin Perry, Bert Rodriguez, David Rohn, Kristen Thiele, Mette Tommerup, and Kyle Trowbridge.

Here's my Miami Herald story re Vik Muniz from February of 2006.


This weekend, no matter what the weather forecast says, there will be an extraordinary cloud in the sky over Miami (not like the ones on Saturday, don't worry).

Traced in the air by a professional skywriter in a former military plane, this "cloud"--a perfect, childlike drawing--will appear several times in the skies over Miami between today and Monday. Each time--between 10 a.m. and noon, even possibly in the early afternoon--the mock cloud will last about 10 minutes before it floats away. Best places to catch a glimpse: Near downtown and from Miami Beach.

This drifting drawing--"Cloud Cloud" by Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz--is artwork both public and ephemeral, produced by the Miami Art Museum, on the occasion of the museum's show about Muniz that opens Friday and runs through May 28.

Wispy trails of skywriting are just one of the more unusual materials that this well-known contemporary artist has used in his eccentric, amusing, and thoughtful art that has been admired since the late 1980s in shows in Brazil, Spain, and Ireland, as well as in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Muniz, 43, has also made drawings, which he then photographs, with chocolate syrup, sugar, ketchup, and even Cheese Doodles. His show at MAM will include more than 100 works. Many are his photographs of his easy-to-recognize but fleeting drawings with materials rarely recognized as art materials.

"I like working with things that change over time," explains Muniz in a phone interview from Rio de Janeiro, where he keeps a studio, in addition to one in Brooklyn. "It becomes something you can wonder about. It recovers the magic of drawing."
Not all his experiments with eccentric materials have worked. He says that attempts to draw with M&M candies and snow failed miserably.

But drawing via skywriting has been a grand success. "Clouds are like vessels for meaning. Who has not looked at a cloud and seen a shape in it?" Muniz asks.

"Cloud Cloud" was first produced in New York in 2001 by Creative Time, a nonprofit organization that presents public art in New York. "It was one of our greatest crowd pleasers. The response was nothing less than astounding," says Anne Pasternak, president of Creative Time.

"We got children's drawings, poetry, paintings, and just tons of fan mail because people loved it so much. It was one of those moments that makes living in a city so special. People had never thought about the sky as a place for art. Some people saw a heart, people saw whatever they wanted," says Pasternak.

"In a city where you don't tend to look up, people who chanced to look up were rewarded with this magical sight," says Lorie Mertes, the MAM curator who's overseeing the Miami edition of this skywriting project.

"When you think about the absurdity of can see someone in the act of drawing," Mertes adds. "It's an amazingly public way of seeing something that's normally private. There's a great sense of humor about it. You think, 'That's not so unusual to see the shape of a cloud in the sky,' and then you go, 'Wait a minute!' and then you smile."

Mertes hopes weather will allow professional skywriter Wayne Mansfield to make flights for drawing "Cloud Cloud" over Miami twice a day on each of the four days. "He draws a very specific shape Vik has envisioned. With each flight he draws approximately four times," she says.

To folks scanning Miami skies this week, "Cloud Cloud" will show Muniz making art of the double-take. "He works with very familiar images and somehow makes them strange," says Peter Boswell, who curated "Vik Muniz: Reflex" for MAM. This strangeness is part of what makes the artist's work amusing, but sliced with a thoughtful and critical edge.

"You do a double-take and realize it is not what you thought it was," he says. "It makes people think about what they are looking at. It deals with the manipulation of images."

Here's my review re Vik Muniz, from The Miami Herald from March in 2006. (In this version, I wrote my own sub-heads, because there apparently were none when it was first published. Not sure why--guess it is just one of those many, many things I will never understand, so I may as well just give up trying to figure them out, and continue to count my blessings EVERY DAY.)


When the tide washed away his favorite book, the one that Vik Muniz found at a garage sale in the early 1980s in Chicago and then left behind at the beach, he found his true calling as an artist.

It was not a calling to create new images, as Claude Monet had done with his famous Impressionist painting of light-dappled and delectably blurry water lilies. It was to copy them--as Muniz did years later when he cut up scores of magazines to evoke a green-blue semblance of Monet's abundantly familiar art historical icon. Then he photographed it, making the photograph his own creative version of his uniquely hand-crafted copy.

That creative version is "Water Lillies, After Monet (Pictures of Magazines)." It's one of more than 100 works now at the Miami Art Museum in "Vik Muniz: Reflex," a truly memorable show of Muniz's unusually familiar art.

These "copies"--call them creative versions--come in series based on the materials that Muniz uses. This quixotic artist delights in experimenting with oddball materials like chocolate syrup, diamonds, dust, and dirt--substances that can exist beyond their shelf life as photographs of themselves.

His self-portrait is part of the same series to which "Water Lillies, After Monet" belongs. It's composed of hundreds of circles punched out from magazine pages and then photographed, making the scale of the materials difficult to judge. The punched-out circles photographed in Muniz's "Self Portrait (Pictures of Magazines)" do look abnormally large, but it's impossible to tell for sure from the image itself.


Muniz is fascinated with the way our minds make sense of images, both their shape and scale, and he has hit upon a way to make distinctive, deceptive art from that universal and magical process called perception.

In "Elizabeth Taylor (Pictures of Diamonds)," his photograph of his drawing in diamonds of the movie legend only seems to sparkle with diamonds as big as the Ritz. They owe their big sparkle to the big distortions of scale that photography makes possible. Muniz actually executed this drawing with diamonds the size of pinheads.

That special find from the garage sale, that book of photographs that he left behind on the beach in 1987, cracked open the door to his career as an artist. It was only when he had lost the book that the door opened wide.

That book was The Best of 'Life,' a compendium of well-known photographs by Life magazine photographers. If you belong to certain generations, you can probably picture in your mind many of them--like Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous image of the sailor passionately kissing a nurse when news came that World War II was over, or the one of little John-John saluting the funeral procession for his assassinated father, President John F. Kennedy.


As an immigrant far from his native Brazil, Muniz says the photographs in that book became like "family" to him, and he grew inordinately fond of them. When they were gone, he tried to recreate them in drawings. But his drawings were sketchy and incomplete. Like all memories, his memory of The Best of 'Life' was not picture-perfect, and neither were his drawings.

But, in a burst of mischief, he decided to photograph his drawings in soft-focus. To his amusement, when his photographs of these "memory drawings" were exhibited in a gallery, people thought they were poorly reproduced historical photographs. Exhibited as part of the Muniz show at MAM, these blurry black and white photographed drawings do seem to be historical relics. After a fashion, they are.

Muniz recounts this career-altering encounter with The Best of 'Life' inReflex: A Vik Muniz Primer (Aperture, $39.95). This book stands as the catalogue for "Vik Muniz: Reflex," a traveling exhibit organized by MAM and curated by Peter Boswell.

Muniz's Life magazine "memory drawing" photographs come early in his show. They resemble one-line jokes--once you understand the trick the artist has played, part of their appeal is diminished.

Far more resonant images come later in the exhibit, particularly as the artist finds a way to make his appetite for oddball materials amplify the meaning of the image he is portraying. His art becomes more than a clever game of mischief-making double-takes--although for this artist, certainly mischief and medium are part of the message. At his best, Muniz loves to deflate pretensions cloaking art history.

He does just that in his amusing photograph of his rendering in gooey, dripping chocolate syrup of Hans Namuth's famous photograph of Jackson Pollock executing his legendary "drip" paintings.


More resonant work begins with the artist's 1996 "Sugar Children" series, such as Valicia Bathes in "Sunday Clothes (Sugar Children)" at MAM. These are photographs of drawings in sugar that Muniz made on black paper, working from snapshots he took of children he met during a 1995 vacation on St. Kitts. He also met the children's parents. He was haunted by the way the parents, who labored long hours for low pay at grueling jobs on the island's sugar plantations, seemed perennially tired. bereft of the youthful, vivacious charm he found so beguiling in the children of St. Kitts.

"I owe my career to those children," Muniz writes in Reflex. His photographs of his drawings in sugar capture images in typically fleeting materials, but this time the unusual material speaks more directly to the image--to the complex history and story to which these sweet young faces belong.

With his "Sugar Children" series, Muniz begins working more often with children, creating images that don't merely startle the viewer with his puckish penchant for the elaborately devised double-take.

Sometimes he has worked with the photographic memory of a famous child, one who is forever associated with a girl in a story legendary for her own magical, distorting changes in size. The child is Alice Liddell, for whom Lewis Carroll wrote his classic Alice in Wonderland. Muniz has photographed his drawing of Alice in a daunting clutter of colorful plastic toys in "Portrait of Alice Liddell, after Lewis Carroll (Rebus)." In his "Toy Soldier (Monads)," the plastic clutter of toys for playing war, including little soldiers, makes the double-take that his work launches both funny and uncomfortable.

His trickster portraits of iconic works in art history, like paintings by Monet and Gaugin, are fabulously clever, but they don't pack the punch that "Angelica (Aftermath)" does. The "Aftermath" series is one he did of homeless children in Sao Paulo. It's a series that makes you think about the deplorable state of these urban orphans, but it is not all preachy and political.

After much coaxing, Muniz photographed the children in poses they chose from an art history book. They are shown in grayish-white negative images, surrounded by the trash and confetti swept up from the streets after the city's Carnival celebration.

How telling that the children seem like eerie mirages, faint memories of masterpieces, and far less substantial than street garbage.