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NPR Arts & Life

Iconic Paintings Recreated With Garbage At Mint

Courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins Gallery, New York City. Art © Vik Muniz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

An exhibit of famous paintings re-created using garbage opened this weekend at the Mint Museum Uptown.

Look closely at the reworking of Botticelli's iconic "Birth of Venus" and you'll notice that in place of Venus's long flowing hair are old frayed ropes.

“Venus is rising out of the half-shell of the sea,” says curator Carla Hanzal. “Here’s another Venus that’s literally rising out of a sea of garbage.”

The exhibit is called “Garbage Matters.” It’s a collection of several large photographs by Brazilian artist Vik Muniz. Muniz collected any sort of trash you can imagine - tires, toilet seats, shoes, even discarded pianos - and then spent months painstakingly arranging them on the floor of his warehouse.

“And then he uses scaffolding several stories above the floor where he’s ultimately able to take a photograph of what he’s assembled on the floor and then make a print,” says Hanzal.

One of those prints - a reworking of Jacques-Louis David’s “Death or Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat” - was presented as a gift to President Obama during a trip to Brazil. It’s one of the photographs on display at the Mint, and it’s a mini tie-in to next week’s Democratic National Convention.

The choice of Muniz’s medium is no accident. Hanzal says there’s a message in all that trash.

“Garbage really does reflect our values,” says Hanzal. “It’s the material that we quickly cast aside, and it’s stockpiling in these giant landfills that we can see from space. I think it’s his way of drawing attention to the great monuments we’re leaving behind as a culture and also bringing what is considered really ugly, discarded and transforming it into something really beautiful.”

“Garbage Matters” will be on display through early next year. Artist Vik Muniz is scheduled to give a lecture at the museum in January.