Both artists live and work in Rio de Janeiro, and both have made very important contributions to the art world. Ernesto Neto’s «Leviathan Thot» at the Panthéon in Paris (2006) and Vik Muniz’s «WWW (World Map)» (2008) are two outstanding contemporary masterpieces which I want to discuss.
Ernesto Neto (born in 1964 in Rio de Janeiro, lives and works in Rio de Janeiro)
Ernesto Neto immerses us in the sensuous swirl of his worlds, which are beyond all pseudo-rational squareness and orthogonal orderliness. He creates plastic forms that are sensual to the point of being erotic, thereby invoking organic abstract symbols of our physicality. As in the works of his fellow countrymen, the architect Oscar Niemeyer and the landscape designer Burle Marx, we search in vain for right angles. Everything curves and swings organically in the space of his «biomorphic-sculptural artistic cosmos» (Katrin Steffen).
The greater the challenge is, the better Neto’s intense plastic sensibility takes effect. To me, his absolute masterpiece «Leviathan Thot» from 2006 at the Panthéon in Paris represents a magic moment in recent contemporary art. Neto ingeniously inscribed this relentlessly rigid, inhumanly cool space with his inviting and playful organic forms. Rather than growing upwards, the amorphous, voluptuous bodies are suspended in space in a diametrical contrast with the cold splendor of the architecture and the unforgiving harshness of this hall of fame. The artist skillfully and thoroughly softens up the unbending interior as if to offer an alternative design for a new, more contemporary pantheon.
Neto created another masterpiece with «The Malmö Experience» at the Malmö Konsthall in 2006. Using his Lycra tulle membranes, he transformed the exhibition hall into a fairy-tale palace with an extensive suite of rooms in the most spellbinding, subtle color compositions. Into this singular, spacious habitat, the viewers were entirely absorbed, with body and soul, completely protected and sheltered, as if surrounded by the tender embrace of a womb. Ernesto Neto has an idea of the earth as a body on which we, each from within our own individual body, interact together as a social body and as an integral part of nature. This idea manifested itself entirely unconstrained and turned «The Malmö Experience» into an unforgettable, sensuous and mental Gesamtkunstwerk.
Vik Muniz (born in 1961 in São Paulo, lives and works in Rio de Janeiro and in New York)
«The artist’s material is the world»
I had the pleasure to meet Vik Muniz in his wonderful loft apartment in Brooklyn, together with his then partner, the artist Janaina Tschäpe, some 20 years ago. This was the first time I experienced what Brazilian hospitality can mean. Vik was full of humor, extremely bright and witty, as well as being spurred by irrepressible creativity, which would lead him to his best works and the deserved international breakthrough in the years to come. Overbrimming with exuberant inventiveness, Vik Muniz cheerfully raided the pictorial trove of the media and art history, foraging and plundering to his heart’s content. In his «trompe-l’esprit» photos, he brilliantly puts our perception to the test with skillful alienation effects, playfully and elegantly drawing our attention to what an image actually is and what it constitutes. «Simple conceptual games» is what Vik once called his artistic approach.
Vik Muniz’s photographic works are highly effective; they have an extremely vivid, crisp, and appetizing appeal, and they immediately catch the viewer’s eye. What you see is what you see: «Pictures of chocolate» are accordingly made of chocolate, «pictures of dust» are made of dust, and «www. world map» is consequently made of computers, specifically of electronic junk, as it is «disposed of», or, more precisely, burned, by millions of tons at Agbogbloshie in Ghana for example. This vast site in the immediate vicinity of Accra is one of the world’s biggest and most toxic waste dumps. (Make sure to watch the excellent film documentary «Welcome to Sodom» by Florian Weigensamer!)
In «www (World Map)», Vik Muniz insightfully visualizes our world as all but entirely littered with computers, and he makes us realize the trash bin we are already inhabiting. With an ironic sense for detail, the artist meticulously recorded the specific types of computer junk the individual countries of our world are composed of. As a result, this nearly three-dimensional «mapa mundi» of the informatic globalization reflects the enormous quality gap between the different types of trash in countries such as the USA and Cuba…