Muniz ingeniously probes the nature and traditions of picture-making by using unlikely materials to create images that ultimately take the form of photographs. The final work reveals just how the trick was done, but the illusion is seductive nevertheless. Muniz's series Pictures of Junk is based on Old Master paintings of the gods and heroes of classical mythology. In this picture, modeled on a famous painting by Caravaggio (c. 1597), the Greek hero Narcissus gazes at his reflection in a pool of water. Absorbed by his own beauty, he is an exemplar of vanity.
The image, assembled on the floor of a hangar the size of a basketball court on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, is composed of industrial rubble such as nuts, bolts, bottle caps, soda cans, discarded tires, wheelbarrows, rusty signs, car doors, and scrap metal. Muniz directed his assistants—art students from impoverished neighborhoods nearby—from a platform forty feet above the ground. This whimsical translation of a venerable image into improbable materials is even more complicated than it first seems. Because the camera was pointed downward at a slightly oblique angle, the junk at the top of the picture is farther away from the viewer than the junk at the bottom. Consequently, viewers must take into account a disorienting discrepancy of scale.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 261.