Juan Muñoz

Juan Muñoz was born in 1953, in Madrid. In 1976 — 77 he studied at the Central School of Art and Design in London and, in 1979, transferred to the Croydon College of Design and Technology on a stipend from the British Council. In 1982, he worked at the Pratt Graphic Center, New York, after receiving a further stipend. From New York, he returned to Spain where he held a curatorial position that familiarized him with border areas of art, architecture, and ethnography. In the mid-1980s, Muñoz created first spatial objects and installations made from metal, various kinds of plastic, or done in mixed media. In 1984, he had his first solo exhibition (Galeria Fernando Vijande, Madrid) and, in 1986, was invited to participate in the Venice Biennale as part of the special exhibition »Aperto« (El norte de la tormenta). In 1987, Muñoz had his first solo exhibition at a museum (CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain, Bordeaux). Further solo exhibitions in the U.S. and in England followed in 1990 (Renaissance Society, University of Chicago; Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol). Muñoz did his first commissioned work in 1992, as part of the London exhibition »Doubletake« at the Hayward Gallery. For this exhibition, Muñoz created an exterior sculpture (Untitled Monument, South Bank). Along with James Turrell, Rebecca Horn und Janis Kounellis, he did a commissioned sculpture for the old harbor area in Barcelona (Una habitación donde siempre llueve).

Like Robert Gober, Thomas Schütte, Kiki Smith, or Stephan Balkenhol, Muñoz belongs to a generation of artists that foreground figurative sculpture and installations – albeit with highly divergent intentions and artistic results. Munoz’ works do not, however, exhaust themselves in perspectives on everyday objects, ships, towers, dwarfs, ballerinas or apparently historical figures. They rather focus on objects and constellations of figures that are taken out of their original context and thus defamiliarized. Muñoz aims at a changed visual and acoustic perception in space, searching for an expanded experiential context of artist and viewer. His downsized architectonic fragments of the 1980s, for example, marked enigmatic spatial positions and dimensions, defining the experience of spatial structures and functions (Erstes Treppengeländer (First Staircase), 1987). In their defunctionalization and their stage set character, the stairs, balconies, or banisters only indirectly evoke the presence of persons in a defined space.

Muñoz’ works of the 1990s further emphasize relations between figure and space: With ornamental floor structures drawing on Spanish arts and crafts traditions, Muñoz’ »floor pieces« generate irritating spatial perceptions (Winterreise (Winter Journey), 1994), perceptions that are further intensified in his theatrical stagings (Der Souffleur (The Prompter), 1988). Through their ambiguous situational interactions and their ways of structuring space, the »Konversationsstücke« (»Conversation Pieces«) – they consist of multiple figures – create highly unusual contexts of perception and experience, they create »mental spaces.« The complexity of these spatial visions is further increased through the often stereotypical, apparently strange figures, through their placement, and their constellation. Muñoz’ figures are mostly made of polyester, synthetic resin, or textiles. Through the strangely ambivalent interaction in space and through the body and gesture language of these seemingly interchangeable or serial figures, the artist is able to create narrative relations also across larger distances or spatial barriers. Stereotpyed ethnic groups, frozen smiles, arrested movements (Many Times, 1999) all serve as means to generate these relations. A very different approach from the often fragile or sometimes threatening multiple figure installations is taken in yet another field of Muñoz’ work. There are, for example, oddly funny instructions for card tricks, spoken by the artist himself (A Man in a Room, Gambling, 1992 — 1997), or the wild chases of Tom and Jerry.

Aside from the sculptures and installations – and sometimes connected to them within the context of an exhibition (Stuttering Piece, 1993) – Muñoz also concentrated on other mediums in the 1990s. Yet he kept his interest in space and spatial illusion. In 1993, he worked with his brother-in-law, Alberto Iglesias, on radio plays that would accompany his exhibitions. They were broadcast in the Netherlands (Building for Music) and on BBC (Third Ear). In book publications, Muñoz continued to focus on themes connected to architecture, ethnography, and magic. Yet he also wrote essayistic pieces about his own installations and materials. Along with his exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, he edited the volume »Silence please!« that contains short stories by John Berger, William Forsythe, Dave Hickey, Patrick McCabe, Alexandre Melo, Vik Muniz, and others. The collected stories all refer to Muñoz’ own works. Muñoz also participated in collaborative radio productions and Performances, together with composer Gavin Bryars, actor John Malkovich, and writer John Berger (Will It Be a Likeness?, 1996 and 1999; A CorrespondanceAbout Space, a Lecture and Performance at the Geheimnisse der Raumproduktion, Hamburg, May 1998).

More recent exhibitions of Muñoz’ works took place in 1996, at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, and at the Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich (»Monologues and Dialogues«). He participated in the Venice Biennale in 1986 and 1997 and in the biannual exhibitions in Istanbul and Sydney in 1999 and 2000 respectively. His works were also shown at the Documenta in 1992 and 2002. Muñoz works have become a part of many international museum collections of 20th century art.

Juan Muñoz died unexpectedly in Ibiza in 2001.

Selected Literature

Juan Muñoz – Rooms of My Mind: Ausst.-Kat. K21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, hg. v. J. Heynen; V. Liebermann, Düsseldorf 2006

Juan Muñoz, Double Bind at Tate Modern: Ausst.-Kat. Tate Modern, hg. v. Susan May, London 2001

Juan Muñoz: Ausst.-Kat. Hirshhorn Museum; Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., hg. v. N. Benezra u.a. Chicago 2001

Juan Muñoz, Monólogos y diálogos / Monologues & dialogues: Ausst.-Kat. Museu Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, hg. v. James Lingwood, Madrid 1996

Juan Muñoz, Arbeiten 1988 — 1990: Ausst.-Kat. Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld 1991

Foto: Tobias Roch, Hagen Bildrechte: VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2014 Bildrechte: Calder Foundation New York / Foto Stiftung Lehmbruck Museum Bildrechte: gemeinfrei, Foto: Peter Hinschläger

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