On the night of September 2, a fire spread through the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, destroying 90 per cent of its collection…about 20 million items.
Brazilian artist, Vik Muniz, reacted to the fire as many other Brazilians did, with great sorrow. Muniz posted an Instagram message, which read, “Five years ago I temporarily lost my memory after a motorcycle accident and it struck me deeply. Worse than death is the full awareness of loss. There is no worse dread and sadness than not being able to remember what you have been and loved to be, of the things, people, and events that made you what you are. The National Museum in Quinta da Boa Vista, at this moment, burns in flames and with it a significant part of our past. It is extremely sad to think that a country is built on its history, and that from now on our future will have to be erected on the precarious ashes and rubble inherited from an inveterate neglect of our cultural and material heritage. The memory with the ashes in a chronic amnesia of overwhelming consequences goes, especially at a time when our deficit with reality becomes something really disturbing. This is a time of great shame and sadness for us and for those in whom we entrust the custody of our history.”
The museum, a palace that was once the home of Brazilian royalty, was founded in 1818 and housed one of the largest collections of natural history and anthropological artifacts in the Americas.
The exact cause of the fire has not yet been determined. Tragically, the building’s smoke detectors were not working and the fire hydrants near the museum didn’t have water in them, so firefighters had to bring water to the site from a nearby pond.
The museum has been underfunded for years, so underfunded that the museum’s own employees got together to cover the cleaning staff’s salaries.
Muniz, like many other Brazilians, was saddened by the fire. Much criticism was leveled at the government for spending massive amounts of money for the 2016 Olympics and the FIFA World Cup in 2014, but leaving institutions for the arts and sciences poorly funded. The BBC reported that, in the last 10 years alone, fires have destroyed eight buildings in Brazil dedicated to science and the arts.
Brazil is currently undergoing a political and economic crisis. The outcry of Brazil’s art and science community may help to preserve what is left of the country’s rich heritage.
Vik Muniz at the Chrysler Museum
The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia is currently exhibiting a wide range of Muniz’s work. Photography and the Rebirth of Wonder includes over 100 works that the artist has created from a range of unusual materials like chocolate syrup, diamonds, trash and, most recently, grains of sand.
This exhibition has been co-organized by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, Minneapolis/New York/Paris/Lausanne, and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta and runs through October 14, 2018.
Works of Vik Muniz at Vertu Fine Art
Please contact us if you would like more information about the work of Vik Muniz or any of the other fine art work at VFA.
Eleanor Cummins The Devastating fire at Brazil’s National Museum illuminates a global problem. Popular Science. September 6, 2018.
Mark St. John Erickson Pictures: “Vik Muniz: Photography and the Rebirth of Wonder Daily Press. August 18, 2018.
Mariana Simoes Brazil’s National Museum Goes Up in Smoke, Leaving Brazilians Heartbroken and Angered Hyperallergic September 3, 2018.