Relevant Rummage— Pictures of Junk by Vik Muniz

The Birth of Venus, after Botticelli (Pictures of Junk)

The Birth of Venus, After Botticelli (Pictures of Junk)

The Birth of Venus, after Botticelli (Pictures of Junk)

Vik Muniz (Brazilian, 1961-)

Created: 2008
Materials: Digital C-print, 3 parts
Dimensions: 92 x 153 inches overall

Courtesy of the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
Art © Vik Muniz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Vik Muniz was born into a working-class family in São Paulo, Brazil in 1961. He relocated to the United States in 1983, and since then Muniz has become one of the most well-known contemporary Brazilian artists. Muniz started his career as a sculptor in the mid-1980s, and he made photographic reproductions of much of his work. This practice lead him to slowly shift the majority of his work to photography through the practice of documenting his various assemblages, collages and other works made out of impermanent media.

Throughout his career, Muniz has created multiple series of photographs of his work, in which he has used of variety of unconventional materials, including dirt, sugar, scraps of found images, chocolate drippings, wire, and garbage. Muniz consciously imparts playful contradictions and visual ironies on the surfaces of these photographs, as they are at once literally pictures of the materials out of which they are constructed — garbage, in this featured work: The Birth of Venus, After Botticelli (Pictures of Junk). By combining three-dimensional elements within a two-dimensional pictorial space to create visually and conceptually loaded images, Muniz creates work that fosters a shift in visual perception as well as cultural preconceptions.

Muniz makes a practice of creating work directly with many of the communities where his work will be displayed. He enlisted the help of young art students from Centre Especial, a nonprofit educational organization that he established in 2005, to create his Pictures of Junk series between 2006 and 2009. Another example of his collaborative creative process is Muniz’s Pictures of Garbage series, completed in 2008. was the result of a direct collaboration with local residents known as ascatadores, whose livelihood consists of scavenging recyclable materials from one of the largest landfills in the world, Jardim Gramacho, at the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.

Referencing historical and iconic works of art, these massive images were constructed out of discarded materials obtained from Brazilian landfills through a highly labor-intensive process. Muniz directed the activity from scaffolding several stories above as the students and catadores arranged the objects in layers to create visual and physical depth. The final incarnation of each was preserved as a photograph before the arrangement of objects was disassembled.

“The beautiful thing about garbage is that it’s negative; it’s something that you don’t use anymore; it’s what you don’t want to see. So if you are a visual artist, it becomes a very interesting material to work with because it’s the most nonvisual of materials. You are working with something that you usually try to hide.” Vik Muniz

The viewer’s perception of the photographs change as they draw closer to and farther from the photograph. The longer the viewer visually scrutinizes each work, it becomes more and more apparent how much the material constructing the final image is informs its comprehensive meaning. Collectively, this body of work sparks consideration and promts us to consider how important garbage really is — environmentally, socially, and culturally — and it allows us to see how the objects we consider “just trash”, and thus believe have no importance, actually do matter.

For more examples of Muniz’s Pictures of Junk series, or to learn more about Vik Muniz — visit or

Originally published in Yield Magazine: