Juan Muñoz Hanging Figures 1997

Juan Muñoz
Hanging Figures 1997
Private collection © The estate of Juan Muñoz
Photo: Dexter Hodges

Muñoz was fond of making the viewer look upwards, and often installed his sculptures high on the wall of the gallery.

The rotating Hanging Figures 1997 were a conscious echo of a painting by Degas, Mlle La La at the Circus Fernando 1879, which shows a circus acrobat hanging by her teeth. Muñoz knew the painting well from his time as a student in London, when he was a regular visitor to the National Gallery. However, Muñoz’s figures, dressed in conventional clothes, are more ambiguous. They can be seen as performers engaged in a vertiginous stunt, a flamboyant display of the artist’s fondness for breathtaking theatrical coups. But there is also a strong echo of the hanging bodies depicted by the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya, victims of torture and summary execution in time of war. The power of the Hanging Figures stems from this uncanny combination of showmanship and horror.

Elevator 1996 is another example of Muñoz’s interest in mechanical devices. It can be seen as a variation on his staircases – another piece of urban architecture as ‘furniture’ denoting a transitional space, neither up nor down but somewhere in-between. It also anticipates the elevators in Double Bind, his installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2001.