Juan Muñoz

This review of Juan Muñoz’s show at HangarBicocca in Milan appeared on artforum.com:

Juan Muñoz, Waste Land (detail), 1986.

Spanish artist Juan Muñoz’s sculptures and installations are the stuff of dreams, or nightmares. The geometric patterned linoleum floor he designed, which greets visitors entering the main exhibition room, seems to infinitely extend the space. The diminutive bronze ventriloquist figure seated on a ledge affixed to the wall in The Wasteland, 1986, stares across the floor’s dizzyingly linear expanse at his double in The Waste Land, 1986, perched atop a small white wall.

Muñoz’s doubling effects and optical tricks are only compounded as one turns the corner. Dotted around the space or suspended from the ceiling, polyester resin figures in a restricted palette of muted beige and gray recall the plaster casts of Pompeii or the Chinese terra-cotta army. By turns Caucasian or Asian, feminine or masculine, their features and bodies are suggested rather than fully formed. They come in pairs, small groups, or entire assemblies, as in the case of Conversation Piece, Dublin, 1994, or Many Times, 1999, beautifully installed in a room all its own. Beneath the variety of miens and expressions, each ensemble seems a version of the same figure, returning with the insistence of the repressed.

This is especially true of Double Bind, 2001, the show’s centerpiece, conceived for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall but here made to fit HangarBicocca’s equally monumental space. The ashen denizens who inhabit the in-between zone of the three-tiered installation, linked by two elevators ceaselessly going up and down, are modeled on Muñoz’s wayward older brother Vicente. All, that is, but one: a light-bearing figure made in the artist’s own image.

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