Juan Muñoz

Palacio de Velázquez

Juan Muñoz’s recent retrospective, his first exhibition in Madrid in a number of years, contained numerous drawings, as well as sculpture. Muñoz’s central concerns, however—a tension between opposites, narrative ambiguity, and a scenographic quality—are most clearly articulated in his sculptural works.

The work in the show followed an easily traceable trajectory. After creating more two-dimensional pieces during the ’80s, starting with Balcones (Balconies, 1984) Muñoz began to produce three-dimensional abstractions with dramatically juxtaposed elements. He later introduced human figures—perhaps in an effort to escape the formalism toward which his work seemed to be leading—and he has since been arranging them in dynamic, stagelike spaces. His newer work suggests narratives only in the form of veiled allusions or points of departure—looking at one of these pieces is like viewing a single minute from the middle of a movie.

The more explicitly scenographic pieces, as well as the earlier, more abstract works, starting with Escalera (Staircase, 1984), reference Baroque artworks such as Bernini’s The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, 1645–52, and architectural works by Borromini. The physical relationships found in Muñoz’s sculpture also echo Velázquez’s Las Meninas, 1656, and The Fable of Arachne, 1656—paintings in which the space surrounding figures is of great importance. The most obvious reference, however, is to the use of space in the work of the eighteenth-century Dutch painter Pieter de Hooch. Muñoz updates as he appropriates, but he asserts that the task of sculpture is not to invent new forms, suggesting a possible reason for his multiple allusions—which appear throughout his oeuvre, with the exception of his works on paper.

This show culminated in an enormous piece created for the exhibition, entitled Plaza (Madrid), 1996, which seemed in some ways a departure from Muñoz’s earlier work. Although most of the sculptures that appear in this retrospective merely hint at narrative content, one is tempted to render a more concrete reading of Plaza (Madrid). Perhaps these joyful figures gathered together to represent a utopian vision of the city and its inhabitants.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from the Spanish by Christian Viveros-Fauné.

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