this issue contains
>> Joseph Beuys and his students
>> Vik Muniz: Art in the Favelas
>> Ayse Erkmen's Interventions
>> German Pop Art: Thomas Bayrle

>> archive

Those who Teach Can Do
Vik Muniz and His Art School for Kids from the Favelas

Since 2006, the Brazilian artist Vik Muniz has been running the Centro Espacial in Rio de Janeiro—an art school in which he works on attention-getting projects with slum kids. The Pictures of Junk, for instance: football field-sized arrangements of consumerist garbage that resemble the famous works of Old Masters when seen from a bird’s eye view. Morgan Falconer visited Muniz in his New York studio and found out why teachers always continue to learn.

Vik Muniz, Marlene Dietrich, 2004
Deutsche Bank Collection
© Vik Muniz/VG Bild – Kunst, Bonn 2008

Countless young artists clock time as teachers in the years while they’re finding their direction, and Vik Muniz was no different when he came to New York from his native Brazil in the early 1980s. Today, he’s become renowned for a wry spin on appropriation art, using oddball, fugitive media like chocolate sauce and thread and rubbish to remake the imagery of the past, then capturing the results in photographs. Deutsche Bank has two startling examples in its collection: Sunflowers (after Van Gogh) from 2002 revives the Dutchman’s icon using pages from a color swatch, and Marlene Dietrich from 2004 employs only diamonds to recreate a portrait of the actress. With rapid-impact photographs like these, Muniz, now in his late forties, has attained the kind of success that allows him to furnish his own Brooklyn office like a Renaissance Cabinet of Curiosities: oils by Courbet and Tiepolo adorn the walls, a bear-skin rug with a solid stuffed head splays across the floor, preserved insects and old photographs clutter shelves behind his desk. But success notwithstanding, Muniz is still thinking deeply about art and education. "There’s a saying," he says. "'Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.' I think that’s faulty. Teaching not only makes you organize your ideas so that you can pass them on to others, but students bring an energy that you can’t often feel in the art world."

Vik Muniz
Photo: Barney Kulok
Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Vik Muniz, Sunflowers (after Van Gogh), 2002
Deutsche Bank Collection
© Vik Muniz/VG Bild – Kunst, Bonn 2008

Teaching has been much on his mind of late. In 2006, he sank money and energy into creating the Centro Espacial Vik Muniz, an art education institute based in Rio de Janeiro aimed at children living in the favelas. "They come raw, tough," he says. It’s nested within another school, the Galpão Aplauso, which teaches theater arts, and four hundred students arrive each year from two hundred favelas across the city to get involved. The students’ commitment alone counts as a success, Muniz says, as the long arms and competing interests of the drug cartels can create animosity between different favelas.

Muniz has been happy with the results. He has taken several former students from the Centro Espacial on to the staff of his studio in Rio, and recently they’ve been at work on a series called Pictures of Junk, which remake Old Master paintings on a huge scale using the discards of industry. Muniz’s studio in the city is the size of a basketball court, and to make the series he had to perch on a scaffold near the ceiling and direct work below using a laser pointer. A heap of industrial netting serves to describe the mouth of the beast in Saturn devouring one of his sons (after Goya), and in Narcissus (after Caravaggio), old buckets and fridges and wheels and rusted chains lend texture.

Vik Muniz, Narcissus, after Caravaggio,
from "Pictures of Junk", 2006,
Courtesy of Vik Muniz and Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Muniz was born in São Paulo, but it was his growing experience of Rio that prompted his decision to establish the center there. "Rio is like Saint Tropez surrounded by Mogadishu," he says. "And for me, as a Brazilian, I find that to be able to live there and fully enjoy the culture, you have to work on both sides of the divide." Some might question whether the children of the favelas urgently need an art center, but Muniz says he’s well aware of their needs. "Their reality is very different than that of the regular art student. They want a profession, a job, and for them to have something to show an employer is important." To that end, he has helped fashion a course, influenced by the Bauhaus, which eventually puts them to work on a project, an exhibition, and a catalogue.

[1] [2]