My characters sometimes behave as a mirror that cannot reflect. They are there to tell you something about your looking, but they cannot, because they don’t let you see yourself.
Skarstedt is pleased to present an exhibition of sculptures by Juan Muñoz from September 14 to November 16, 2019 at Skarstedt, 20 East 79th Street. Three works mounted, two hanging and another on the floor, Muñoz creates sensations of ambiguity, tension, humor, and otherness – paradoxically engaged and disorienting.
Muñoz’s works function as small narratives in which the movements of the spectator are deliberately calculated. Mounted on the wall, One Laughing at the Other entices the viewer to come closer; suddenly the relationship between the viewer and figures change, the spectator is now the spectacle as the trio gazes down in amusement. Muñoz choreographs our participation within the gallery, both inviting and rejecting interaction, his three-dimensional tableaux in bronze and resin raising questions about the nature of looking and being. “It should… remain separate from you. So no matter how much you look at it, it’s still outside of you… What’s interesting in theater is that you cannot answer back. And then the curtains close and you leave. A piece should have that capacity, that you cannot answer back to it” (J. Muñoz).
For Muñoz, the space in which the figures are positioned, and the architecture of that space plays a crucial role in how they are perceived and how we respond to them. Positioned high on the wall, the mounted figurative ensembles disrupt the normal angles of vision, heightening the dramatic effect of their presence. Looking up to view Hanging Figure, 1997, influenced by Degas’s Miss Lala at the Cirque Fernando, 1879, or engaging with the smaller than life-size figures in Piggyback (Chinese Down), the viewer experiences the works bodily as well as visually. Playing with the notion of spectatorship, the interior space of the gallery becomes an arena in which the figures are simultaneously watching and being watched.
With this notion of theater and audience in mind, Muñoz’s exploration of emotion and the human condition was simultaneous to his experimentation with minimalist traditions – adapting the purity and perfection of minimalism to a social commentary. Curator James Lingwood writes “Rather than declaring power by seeking to control the space around them, they withdraw into themselves. Powerless and mute, they embody no universal values, no common truths, they propose no programs for the future or past. Friezes or freeze frames of arrested moments or movements, perhaps they are allegories of communication and its failures, of the impasse of language” (J. Lingwood, Juan Muñoz: Monologues and Dialogues, exh. cat., Palazio de Velquez, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofiam 1996-97, p. 16).
About Juan Muñoz
Juan Muñoz was born in Madrid in 1953. He studied at the Central School of Art and Design, London, the Croydon School of Art, and the Pratt Graphic Center, New York. While in New York, he was also an artist-in-residence at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center. Using the figure as his primary subject, Muñoz creates cast-sculptures in paper-maché, bronze and resin as well as delicate drawings. A self-acclaimed “story-teller,” the artist reinvigorated figurative sculpture by creating the illusion of sound and narrative with his smaller-than-life-size figures in an atmosphere of mutual interaction. In his later work, Muñoz added architectural elements into his sculptures, transforming whole floors into labyrinth environments.
Muñoz’s work has been exhibited extensively in the United States and Europe. Recently the subject of a solo exhibition at the Skulpturenhalle of the Thomas Schütte Foundation in 2018, curated by Dieter Schwartz; ZDB Lisbon, Portugal, 2017; Turner Contemporary, 2013; Musée de Grenoble, 2012; Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, 2009; Guggenheim Bilbao, 2008; Tate Modern, London, 2008; the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C., 2001; the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, 2001; and the Dia Center for the Arts, New York, 1999. He participated in the Venice Biennale in 1986, 1993, and 1997 and in Documenta IX in 1992 and Documenta XI in 2002. In 2000, he was presented with the Premio Nacional de Artes Plásticas, Spain's most prestigious art award.