Juan Muñoz Exhibit in the Art Institute
Juan Muñoz exhibit in the Art Institute has a wide variety of works by the artist. Human figures, balconies, stairs, rugs and shoeboxes are just some of the objects Muñoz chose for his sculptures and his paintings. On the surface, it is hard to believe that all of these were actually created by the same person and that there is some kind of consistency in them. Only after seeing some number of works and spending some time thinking about them can one understand the connections between those dissimilar ideas. Moreover the individual works become conceptually more interesting when one has a better understanding of the works surrounding them.
The "stairway sculptures" or the "balcony series" are just small stairways or balconies in three dimensions. They are very simple and their form has nothing special except the fact that they are out-of-context. A familiar object like a balcony becomes puzzling when there is no "house attached to it" or there is no one standing on it. Stripped from its main function, the balcony turns into a simple three-dimensional object. At this point, Muñoz's art makes us understand a very important fact: we, humans never really look carefully "at the" balconies; we always "see" them with their function in mind.
The Wasteland is a patterned floor designed in such a way that it gives the illusion that it has three-dimensions. At the other end of the room there is a human figure looking at us. After a few seconds, the floor starts to disorient us and there is no way of not losing the sense of directions. Are we looking up or down? And more importantly, how does this pattern change the way we experience the space in this room? Is the figure further than we think it is or closer? This experience makes us question our tendency of seeing everything in perspective. That tendency can easily fool us and it obviously should not be the "only way" of looking at the world around
The Raincoat Drawings are perfect depictions of interiors in perspective framed by black paint as if we are looking through a black box. The "frame" is as unbalanced as it gets: there are no straight lines and the parallel lines do not have the same distance from opposite sides. Moreover, he uses only one tone of black, which destroys any illusion of three-dimensionality in the frame. Therefore, in the same drawing, we have a perfect three-dimensional space and a two-dimensional space negating it. We are constantly drawn by the two extremes: our tendency to perceive the depth in the space and our realization that it is actually two-dimensional.
One of the Raincoat Drawings, made in 1989, is exceptionally important to understand Muñoz's art. Again, we have a framed three-dimensional interior of a house. In the house there is a painting of a stairway, which reminds us of Muñoz's own sculptures and drawings. It is a 3-D space in a 2-D space in a 3-D space in a 2-D space, etc Starting from the stairs in the painting that is in the painting, the movement shifts quickly towards us and we cannot help realize that actually our own eyes perceive things in two-dimensions and our brain give them their three-dimensionality. It is a perfect moment when we question our own perception and understand how little we really know about the real space.
Towards the Corner is an example of his sculptures with human figures. There are seven figures, all of them identical, in gray and with the same costume. They all seem like they are watching something (they are actually looking at the "corner" of the wall in the exhibit) and whatever that is it makes them laugh. They look very self-absorbed at the given moment: they seem to be unaware of how they can be seen from outside. Even the two figures leaning towards each other seem to be unaware of the each other's thoughts. Their closed eyes become a metaphor of their inability to "see" themselves. Eventually, we start questioning how we might look like from outside and realize how we are unaware of how we seem.
Like the figures in Towards the Corner, we are so much self-absorbed in our lives that we do not try to "open our eyes to the reality". We are satisfied with seeing balconies as balconies and with not thinking too much about our own perception. However, there is a whole new reality that should be discovered. Juan Muñoz's art creates a rare experience that makes us perceive the world and ourselves from different perspectives.
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