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The Frick revisits a series of work created by Vik Muniz during 1999-2000 Pittsburgh residency
Vik Muniz (American, born Brazil, 1961), Floor Scrapers, after Gustave Caillebotte, from the Pictures of Magazine 2 series, 2011. Artist Proof 4/4. Digital C print, 71 x 102 1/2 in. Image courtesy of Vik Muniz Studio. © Vik Muniz/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

PITTSBURGH, PA.- The Frick Art Museum opened Clayton Days Revisited: A Project by Vik Muniz featuring a suite of 65 photographs by the internationally renowned contemporary artist that were created during his residency at the Frick in 1999–2000. To complement these photographs, the Frick is also exhibiting ten works from three different recent series created by the artist in the thirteen years since his Frick residency.

Frick director Bill Bodine comments, "As the Frick's first artist in residence more than a decade ago, Vik Muniz provided us with a fresh perspective on Clayton and the significance of the site. We are excited to provide our audience the opportunity to revisit the remarkable suite of images that comprise Clayton Days. Picture Stories by Vik Muniz, along with a compelling selection of recent works by one of the most interesting artists of our time. The current installation reveals multiple layers of meaning in Vik Muniz's work created at the Frick—including interpretations that may not have been clear when the work was first presented—and new interpretive materials will inspire visitors to think about and appreciate these rich images and the stories they evoke."

Muniz (b. 1961) was invited to be the Frick’s first artist-in-residence in 1999. The project and 2000 exhibition, Clayton Days. Picture Stories by Vik Muniz, marked the Frick’s first venture into working with a living artist, and was an acknowledgment of the important perspective that contemporary artists give historic collections by approaching them with fresh eyes and new insights.

The artist is known for his inventive and ingenious approach to art making. Over the years, his work has combined the incisive with the playful—ranging from a tabletop rendition of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (photographed so that the scale is misleading, making Muniz’s work appear as large as Smithson’s monumental earthwork itself)—to a series of portraits, The Sugar Children, portraying the children of sugar plantation workers. Each portrait was meticulously rendered in sugar and then photographed. The photograph was displayed along with a bottle containing the grains of sugar used in its creation. The larger social and political context for the project was the looming presence and impact of the sugar plantations on the island of St. Kitts, where the parents of these children labored and where the children themselves would likely be employed. Sugar would eventually steal the sweetness of these children’s youth as they labored in the fields. In complex, multi-layered photographic projects like this, Muniz’s work encapsulates a penetrating visualization of wide-ranging issues and incorporates an astonishing fluency with art historical precedents, contemporary life and the act of visual perception. There is always more than at first meets the eye in a Vik Muniz photograph.

Simply put, Muniz wants us to pay attention. And the reward for our attentiveness is often an “aha!” moment, a sense of delight in the magic of his images and a deeper understanding of our world. Clayton Days, like much of his work, explores the nature of perception. At the Frick, Muniz did not construct his photographs out of the kinds of unusual materials he has become known for, like sugar, chocolate syrup, string, dust, or dirt, but instead he used Clayton and the grounds as his setting and cast employees as the “actors” in an imaginary turn-of-the-20th century narrative. He made new stories—an alternative, imaginative history—using the very employees who care for the grounds and the facilities and who research, make, and tell the official, or historic stories that are shared every day with the public.

In the 2006 book Reflex: A Vik Muniz Primer, Muniz reflected on the Clayton Days project:

I started to imagine the little things that might have happened in the interstices between historical events—little things like the discovery of a dead snake, a picnic, a doctor’s house call.

The photographs in Clayton Days—elaborately staged still life images and genre scenes— constitute Muniz’s carefully constructed vision of how daily life might have been in the 23 rooms and on the grounds surrounding the Victorian-era house.

The process of working with a living artist proved to be as enlightening for staff members as the resulting photographs. While Muniz was working, a documentary film, Worst Possible Illusion: The Curiosity Cabinet of Vik Muniz, was being made by Mixed Greens Productions. Always a showman, Muniz granted permission to be videotaped while working only if those involved in the film shoot also costumed themselves in turn-of-the-20th-century clothing, just like his subjects, and indeed himself. For several days Frick staff, Muniz and the film crew worked on site, blending art and artifice while he worked to create the photographs that became Clayton Days.

Each photograph in the group of photographs created by Muniz at the Frick in 1999 2000 certainly stands alone—sometimes with complex references, yet each works as part of the group as well—creating a structure with many possible narratives, many imaginative threads to follow. Some of the photographs were deliberately shot to capture the point of view of a child, with Muniz placing his tripod only about four feet from the ground. A few of the prints are, in fact, rephotographed 19th-century images, mixed seamlessly into Muniz’s fabrications of the past. Muniz photographed the tableaux using a large-format period camera and orthochromatic film— which is more sensitive to blue and green light—and helped to create an aged appearance.

At the conclusion of the initial exhibition in October 2000, the Frick acquired all of the Clayton Days prints, and this exhibition marks the first time the entire series will be exhibited together since then. The exhibition is timed to coincide with the regional focus on contemporary art during the Carnegie International. A 90-page exhibition catalogue is available featuring all 65 prints in the exhibition, an essay by noted art critic and writer Andy Grundberg and an interview with Vik Muniz conducted by Linda Benedict-Jones, former curator of education at the Frick and currently curator of photography at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The catalogue provides beautiful documentation of the exhibition and fascinating insight into Muniz’s creative process.

Since working with the Frick, Muniz’s international reputation has grown exponentially; the 2010 film Waste Land documenting his work with garbage pickers or catadores in Rio de Janiero, Brazil was nominated for an Academy Award, garnering further international fame for the artist and cementing his “rock-star” status in his native Brazil. While his public persona has become more recognizable, Muniz’s work continues to be marked by an inimitable blend of wit, art historical savvy, aesthetic excellence and social relevance.

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