Juan Muñoz was born in Spain in 1953. He studied in London and New York. Although principally a sculptor, his work has extended into other media including the audio piece A Man in a Room Gambling made in collaboration with composer Gavin Bryars. He lives and works in Madrid.
Seven figures are assembled on a wooden bench, facing the corner. From a distance, they appear to be focusing on a fixed point. Looking more closely, we see that they are convulsed with silent laughter, the cause of which is unclear. By enticing us to share the joke, and yet withholding its punchline, Juan Muñoz involves the viewer in a disturbing drama.
Muñoz arranges his figures and objects in carefully staged configurations, charging the room with a palpable sense of expectation. Few clues are offered towards a definitive narrative. The ambiguity of these scenarios prompts each viewer to interpret them through the personal memories and associations they trigger.
Enigmatic figures are a recurring motif in Muñoz’s work. His cast of characters includes dwarves and hooded figures - inspired by Spanish old masters like Velázquez and Zurburán. Ballerinas attempt to dance without legs, ventriloquist’s dummies and theatre prompters are unable to speak with their own voices. Retreating into their own interior worlds, they seem resolutely indifferent to our presence.
The figures shown here are slightly smaller than life size, wear the same costumes and share similar physical features. Muñoz’s choice of scale is unsettling. When looking at the figures from a distance, they appear to be of regular height; yet, by the slight reduction in size, they still seem far away, even when viewed in close proximity. This optical device further emphasises the void between the figures and the viewer.
Their closed eyes reinforce this sense of remoteness: ‘You cannot represent the gaze convincingly in a three-dimensional way’, the artist has said. ‘The acceptance of this condition of blindness is important to the pieces. [That] they are looking inwards, automatically excludes the receiver. The most successful statues give the impression that they are humming inside even though you can’t hear them.’