Vik Muniz, Alfred Steglitz and SABER

Equivalents: The Room With The Clouds

Between 1922-35, Alfred Steglitz created a series of photographs titled ‘Equivalent (series)’ these photographs were taken of the cloud formations which took place in the sky. Steglitz believed that clouds were capable of representing ‘abstract equivalents of his own experiences thoughts and emotions.’ [1] The lines, shapes, formations and colours depicted through the clouds and then later, the photographs, were reflections of the inner soul and through this practice, it upheld the modernist values and in response Steglitz formed the term Equivalents. Gelatin silver print medium.

An Artist called Vik Muniz, often referred to as an illusionist or picture tease, often creates works that depict one thing but in actuality are something else, capturing one medium in the matrix of another. In 1993 Muniz created (or guided) a series of photographs and sculptures called ‘Equivalents’ as a postmodern extension of Alfred Steglitz series. Muniz stretched open and manipulated cotton balls and assembled them to look like clouds. Muniz wanted to comment on ‘everyman’s art’ (of no instrument but of the imagination) but also plays with the artistic formulation to devise a scene from an old practice of cloud watching. Muniz isn’t concerned with assimilation, the full understanding of clouds but rather the craft of artifice, the deceiving of the viewer and questioning the norms of public sphere.[2] & [3] & [10]

12 inch diameter

12 inch diameter 1997 Untitled


Both Steglitz and Muniz layer meaning within their works while exercising abstraction, while Steglitz comments of the equivalents between form and emotion Muniz is more so referencing the tangibility of cotton and clouds.
Muniz continues his thoughts on clouds through his bronze sculptures that imitate Gianlorenzo Bernini’s baroque marble renderings of clouds in the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. Although the clouds Muniz installed are held up by thick metal rods, the clouds still appear weightless and fluffy. As well as the photographs the sculptures provoke one to use their imagination to create representations in their mind. While the photographs are named, hinting at clues which guide the imagination the sculptures are all untitled to give full reins to the viewer. Muniz asks this question of does it matter if the clouds are real or not if the same kind of thoughts and reactions are provoked? 

In a paper that Muniz wrote he discusses representation through semantic memories, Muniz is an artist that uses this system to create illusions within his work. Here he describes this notion better than I ever could:

“One generally recognizes representation based on the fact that the depicted image looks like something one has already seen, learned, or experienced. This mediation between newly acquired and previously apprehended sensory stimuli occurs through the faculty of “semantic memories” a process through which data is voraciously retrieved from the chaos of the external sensorium. Here, everything is “abstract” at the outset. Whenever the semantic memory fails to locate a precise equivalent to a given stimulus it compulsively forces the equivalence, making use of approximation. Thus, the interpretation of forms (abstract to one’s experience) becomes the result of an entirely personal process.”[4]

He then goes on to talk about how to access these memories and create an image; it roots back to language, one cannot envision a cloud looking like a certain representation if one does not have that knowledge and the content then goes unnoticed. That’s what I appreciate about his cloud series, that there is something there for everyone who has an imagination of their own or as he says quoting Aristotle ‘the eye of the soul’. It’s interesting because Muniz comments on Aristotle interpretation of abstraction as an immediate experience from a distance. I find this very interesting because he then relates this to miracles, he quotes St. Augustine in saying “Miracles happen, not in opposition to Nature, but in opposition to what we know of Nature.” It is not miraculous that we see representations in clouds, miraculous depends more so on the notion of proof and substance. I think that by creating deception in a work, to imitate the real without it necessarily being that reality, can stop to make people think about what it is they’re really looking at and what that means in opposition to looking at the true experience, inventing that distance, guiding that abstraction, I believe can act as cycle that leads us back to the miraculous.

Muniz carries these ideas along not just in the series Equivalents but also in series like ‘Shadowgrams” where he creates representations with his hand shadows. [5]
His series ‘Pictures of Soil’ where he manipulates soil to look like different things [6]
His series ‘Pictures of Holes’ photographs of holes in forms of other things.[7]
There’s countless other projects that carry out this notion of the imagination and the medium of one in matrix with another.


Another Artist I was looking at is a graffiti and Fine Artist who goes by the name of Saber.
Unlike Muniz who’s clouds were inspired by sky culture Saber uses the sky as a canvas for his medium. He used five flying planes to carry messages about a presidential candidate who plans to kill funding for artists. Saber recognized the benefits of spreading messages across an area that reaches so many people because the sky is apart of our day, everyday. Saber believes that cutting funds in the arts is like cutting jobs that make up the engine of our economy especially an economy that grows through creative thinking. Messages like “Defend the Arts” and “Protect” flew around the NY sky for an hour and half and had an estimated 20 mile radius for those to see. Saber included a # before every message, I believe this was done because like social media and communication through the internet Saber found a way to reach many people very quickly. Using the sky as a canvas his message was literally carried through an everyday aspect of being human, the sky. [8]
Saber also does a lot of paintings which express graffiti on the canvas creating a ‘new reality’ and also works with digital mediums to create and activate political debates.

Tags in the sky

Tags in the sky SABER #DefendTheArts Brooklyn Street

Vik Muniz, the Rower.

Vik Muniz, the Rower.


1. American Art. The Phillips Collection. Alfred Stieglitz Equivalent (Series) .URL

2. Vik Muniz. 1993 Collection. URL and

3. Glasstire. 2 Jan 2005. URL

4. Vik Muniz. Articles by Vik. The Unbearable Likeness of Being. 2015.

5. Vik Muniz. Gallery. 1993. URL

6. Vik Muniz. Gallery. 1997.

7. Vik Muniz. Gallery. 1997.

8. Brooklyn Street Art. SABER tags sky over New York to Defend Arts and Bash Romney. 23 Sept 2012. URL

9.  Opera Gallery.URL

10. Vik Muniz. The Commutability of Traces. Articles. Library. URL




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