I recently visited the High Museum of Art with my littles (2 years old & 4 years old). There are quite a few worthwhile exhibitions currently on view. We went to the High to see the Vik Muniz exhibition and that is where we spent most of our time. When we visit as a family we don’t have the endurance to see everything, and I thought Vik’s exhibition would be the most interesting to dig into.
Last week, I wrote about our Eric Carle experience. The Eric Carle exhibition was something we quickly walked through to save time for Vik’s show. You can read my take on that exhibition here, including some great ideas for follow up activities at home.
Vik Muniz makes drawings out of different materials and then photographs the drawings. When my children saw the drawings made out of spaghetti and peanut butter & jelly, they knew Vik was a genious! Don’t show your kids this beforehand. The surprise is worth it.
When you first walk into the exhibition, you face large photographs from his Rebus series. We immediately sat in front of one of the photographs. With both boys in my lap, I get a good view of the bottom of the picture. It’s not exactly how you are supposed to look at art, but sitting helps them focus their attention. I asked them what they saw. We played eye spy to explore the variety of toys in the photograph. And then my oldest would try to trick me by asking me to spy part of the drawing instead of one of the materials. There are always multiple ways to see Vik’s photographs. The artist expects you to dance forwards and backwards, figuring out the image. In a video interview, he says of his work, “You think you know it. And then you have to know it again.”
If you have littles, feel free to sit down with your children in front of the artwork when you talk about it. It helps everyone relax and focus. At first, Vik Muniz’s photographs can be read similar to how you read any search and find book at home. Play eye spy! You can even turn it into a small competition, asking who can find the most scorpions or guitars in the picture. Remind them to point from a distance or describe the location with their words, so you don’t leave fingerprints on the glass.
As you enter the second large room, there is a timelapse video of his studio working on the large “Pictures of Junk.” We sat together in front of this video for a long time. I saw the light go on in my oldest mind. The video made the physicality of the photographs more real. In another way, it made the scale of the photographs more confusing. There is a person in the video making a drawing of a finger that is bigger than their own body and an eyeball made up of multiple hubcaps. Except when they walk over to that photograph, the scale of the drawing is smaller.
Vik Muniz’s series of “Earthworks” from 2002 are some of his first experiments with scale. The drawings are so large that the individuals driving the excavators and digging the lines cannot see the picture. I thought my children would love these artworks, but they ran right past them. The majority of the exhibition is large photographs, and the small works in a tall grid could not compete for their attention. However, they are included in this book where we can take more time with them.
When my child lays down in front of the artwork and makes silly faces at the museum staff, then we enter the final countdown for getting out without breaking anything. Granted sometimes the galleries’ open space and shiny floors make me want to do the same thing. Luckily, we made it to the final room of the exhibition, where Vik’s most recent work on sand is installed. “Sand Castles” changes the way I question all of Vik’s work. As you can glimpse in the video below, he worked with very sophisticated machines to make a drawing that technically you can never behold.
It’s a microscopic drawing of a castle onto a single grain of sand. It is a hard earned drawing that the artist can never encounter. It’s too small to experience. It instantly becomes history or a rumor. I am drawn to the fruitlessness of the work. The purpose is not to create meaningful work, but to create meaning out of meaningless work. The ephemeral nature of this series and all of Vik’s drawings are an important part of questioning how we value the art or treasure skill.
If you are interested in learning more about Vik Muniz, the exhibition includes a short video documentary on Vik Muniz. It’s good for a breather. Before you take your children, you can learn about the artist from his 2003 TED talk. He also has two documentaries on Netflix, Wasteland and This Is Not A Ball. You should start with Wasteland. It gives a picture of his process and work from different angles as well as raises some thought provoking issues on poverty and development.
There are many reasons to experience Vik Muniz’s work, and I saw a similar retrospective of his work eight years ago in Montreal. It is never easy to take preschoolers into a formal art museum, but Vik’s work inspires them and confuses them (in a good way).
One of our exciting conversations in the museum was picking out which material we want to experiment with at home (sand? chocolate sauce? trash?) I am working on a second post about this exhibition that will include guides for helping your children connect with the artwork. Look for it tomorrow and let me know about your experience sharing this exhibition with your family! Vik Muniz is at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta through August 21, 2016.