Indepth Arts News: |
"INTERNATIONALLY-ACCLAIMED CAMERA ARTIST VIK MUNIZ REMAKES HISTORY"
2000-09-09 until 2000-10-22
Frick Art and Historical Center
USA United States of America
The Frick Art & Historical Center, Pittsburgh, presents its first exhibition of contemporary art,
with a major body of new work by internationally-acclaimed camera artist Vik Muniz.
Comprising sixty-five photographs created in 2000, Clayton Days. Picture Stories by Vik Muniz
inaugurates the Center’s artist-in-residence program, in which contemporary artists are
invited to respond to the collections at the Center.
While at the Frick, Mr. Muniz became fascinated by the concepts, histories, and collections
contained in and around Clayton, the restored nineteenth-century estate of industrialist and art
collector Henry Clay Frick. The photographs in Clayton Days—elaborately staged still lifes
and genre scenes—constitute Mr. Muniz’s carefully constructed, personal vision of how life
might have been in the twenty-three rooms and on the grounds of the Victorian-era house.
According to DeCourcy E. McIntosh, executive director of the Frick, “It was a sense of the
limitations of historical interpretation that led us to Mr. Muniz in the first place. After
nearly ten years of impressing upon the public the accuracy of the Clayton restoration and the
significance of the site, we craved a fresh perspective, one created not through analysis of
historical evidence, but formed by the eye and hand of an artist.”
During his residency, Mr. Muniz became particularly interested in the many histories told
about Clayton and the family that lived there. As one of the most compelling and controversial
industrialists at the turn of the twentieth century, Henry Clay Frick has been the object of
historical scrutiny and interpretation for 100 years. The story of his family’s life at Clayton,
where the Fricks and their children lived from 1882 until 1905, when they moved to New York
City, is retold daily by docents leading public tours through the home. “I’ve taken the tour of
Clayton with different guides, and every one tells a unique story,” says Mr. Muniz. “Although
they all have the same text, they emphasize different parts. Once history enters the realm of
human interpretation…it is inadvertently analyzed and changed.”
Many of Clayton’s most compelling stories center around the Fricks’ family life and their
children, Childs (1883–1965), Martha (1885–1891), Helen (1888–1984), and Henry Clay Frick,
Jr. (July 1–August 3, 1892). It is the “incredible presence of children” that Mr. Muniz felt most
vividly at Clayton. He decided that, in the absence of photographs documenting a child’s point
of view in the nineteenth century, he would take on the task of exploring such a perspective,
along with its psychological and visual complications.
To create his work for the Frick, Mr. Muniz used period equipment, including a
nineteenth-century lens and camera. He shot the photographs from the low perspective of a
four- or five-year-old child and used as his models contemporary children and adults, dressed
in period clothing and posed in sometimes elaborately staged scenes recreating the artist’s
vision of life at Clayton: for example, a festive croquet party, two girls helping each other
dress, or a seated servant peeling potatoes. Even people who were involved in the shoots, but
not actually in the pictures, dressed in costumes of the era.
The photographs have many qualities of straightforward Victorian pictorial prints, yet at the
same time they are lyrical and haunting as they explore the innocence of children travelling
through an adult world. In one example, a group of men and women, along with a young boy
and girl, lean over a woman who has fainted. Another image conveys an acute sense of
loneliness and mystery as a young boy in a cap and jacket peers out a window, looking
intently at something not revealed in the photograph.
In some of the still lifes, objects are used to evoke human presence, as well as the activities
of daily life. Several of these, like a photograph of a hand of solitaire that has been
abandoned, are reminiscent of seventeenth-century Dutch still-life paintings in which the
viewer appears to have come upon a scene just as the participants have left. In others, such
as the picture of an open medicine chest containing almond meal, glycerin, and other
preparations, the viewer could be peering over the shoulder of a Frick family member. Other
photographs take on an ominous cast: A crow on a window ledge, the pull-cord of a shade
dangling above its back, is menacing, due to the close range and the photograph’s low
For Clayton Days, Mr. Muniz’s work is displayed to tell his own version of the history of life at
Clayton. Indeed, the pictures remind us that, with our twentieth-century point of view, we can
never truly understand Clayton as it actually was. For all the apparent authenticity of these
images, the viewer remains aware of the pictures’ artifice, and thus of the fact that
photography can only express the personal vision of the photographer, and not “objective”
reality. Mr. Muniz’s vision is complex and multi-layered, drawing viewers into the world he has
created, and intriguing them with its mysteries.
In addition to Clayton Days, the Frick will present Mr. Muniz’s Flora Industrialis series, as well
as Dying Rose and his Brooklyn, NY photographs. Flora Industrialis, consisting of twenty
works, takes on the form of a botanical field guide. In reality, the pictures are not of actual
flora, but of artificial flowers shot on black backgrounds.
Brooklyn, NY is a series of photographs based on re-creations of famous large-scale
man-made structures, like Stonehenge and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. Created in 1970,
Mr. Smithson’s Spiral Jetty is a spiral of dirt, rocks, and debris that extends 1,500 feet into the
Great Salt Lake. Mr. Muniz’s facsimile of Spiral Jetty was created on a table top in his
Brooklyn studio and deals with the notion of photographic scale.