High Museum to mount shows of Muniz’s photographs, Basquiat’s notebooks

The High Museum of Art has announced two exhibitions opening in early 2016, a midcareer retrospective of the work of contemporary photographer-alchemist Vik Muniz and a look at a leading late 20th-century artist whose life was cut short before it reached midcareer, Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The Muniz exhibit will examine the breadth of the Brazilian-born American artist’s career, comprising nearly 150 prints, including many recent works.

The Basquiat show centers on handwritten texts and sketches from rarely seen notebooks created by the New York artist, who died at age 27 in 1988. One hundred and sixty unbound notebook pages will be displayed along with 30 related paintings, drawings and mixed-media works.

“Vik Muniz” and “Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks” will run concurrently at the Midtown museum from Feb. 28 through May 29, 2016.

Muniz is known for creating what he calls “photographic delusions,” employing unconventional materials such as sugar, tomato sauce, diamonds, magazine clippings, chocolate syrup, dust and trash to design detailed narrative subjects before recording them with his camera.

For instance, “Vik Muniz” will include prints from his “Pictures of Garbage” series, for which Muniz worked with pickers from an enormous Rio de Janeiro landfill to construct images using collected refuse. The photographs include a re-creation of Jacques-Louis David’s 1793 painting “The Death of Marat” and portraits of the pickers themselves created from rubbish they collected.

In the exhibit announcement, High photography curator Brett Abbott praised Muniz’s work as being “marked by a playful curiosity, a constant churning of creativity and an inventive approach to reframing conventional perspectives on the world.”

Co-organized by the High and the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, the exhibit will tour internationally following its debut in Atlanta.

“Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks” should fill in some blanks in the narrative of the prolific painter whose meteoric rise ended with a drug overdose, said High curator of modern and contemporary art Michael Rooks.

Filled with text that ranges from wordplay to passages that indicate the artist’s interest in highlighting racial discrimination, the notebooks “give us an opportunity to trace his private thoughts and reflections from their pages to the walls of the gallery,” Rooks said.

Created between 1980 and 1987, the eight notebooks to be exhibited give a glimpse into how the former graffiti artist began to develop the artistic strategies that would inform his large-scale works, which combined text and images in a raw expressionist style.

The High’s first exhibit focused solely on Basquiat’s work was organized by the Brooklyn Museum.

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