Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction


Juan Muñoz
1952 - 2001
194.3 by 68.6 by 60.9cm.; 76 1/2 by 27 by 24in.
Executed in 1997.
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Marian Goodman Gallery, London 

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 1997

Catalogue Note

From the 1980s onwards, Juan Muñoz manipulated and appropriated approximations of the human body in order to question the boundaries of traditional art, and further engage his viewers with eloquently defined notions of absurdity and unease. Muñoz created three versions of this sculpture, varying the roles and relationships of his two characters, Caucasian and Chinese, in each permutation: Caucasian on Caucasian (which now resides in the Speed Art Museum, Louisiana), Chinese on Caucasian, and Caucasian on Chinese – the present work. Throughout its bold form, Muñoz encourages us to question the fundamentals of human interaction, and interrogate the role of communication within our social contemporary reality.

At first glance, the vividness of the human scenario in this work is striking. One man carries another in a precarious pose as he marches forward. With the carried Caucasian clutching him, the Chinese man raises his knee to walk onwards, and the whole ensemble seems to teasingly teeter in a way that demands the viewer’s immediate and wholehearted engagement. Their pose is one of absolute intimacy – interdependent and physically intertwined. In this way Muñoz evokes canonical sculpture from art history, in which each figure supports another in twisting totemic contortions. For example, the use of marble in the pedestal seems to almost parody the sculptural form of such famous classical interpretations as Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s paradigmatic Aeneas, Anchises, and Ascanius. Meanwhile, in exploiting the tensile strength of cast bronze, Muñoz directly recalls works like Giambologna’s Hercules with Erymanthus Boar in which technical virtuosity is broadcasted via towering expanses of material, sculpted into expressions of the beau ideal. Throughout Muñoz’s oeuvre, and especially in the present work, art historical archetypes are appropriated and mutated to serve the contemporary post-modern moment.

Muñoz imbues these figures with a distinct sense of ‘otherness’ and uneasy absurdity through his use of isolated and incomplete narrative. Although they are physically engaged, they seem disorientated in their interaction, and wear generic, unrelated facial expressions. These figures are reduced to their racial types – Caucasian Piggyback on Chinese; they seem familiar but remain obscure and thus provoke a pervasive sense of the uncanny. Furthermore, in their scale, slightly smaller than lifesize, their ungainly dress, and their lack of colour, left in monochrome bronze, they are almost rendered absurd. “It’s the work’s absolute obliviousness to anything outside of itself which paradoxically creates the condition for the spectator’s absorption into the world of the work… physical proximity does not bring a greater closeness; it creates a greater distance. Being amidst the work creates a powerful sense of apartness” (James Lingwood, Juan Muñoz: Monologues & Dialogues, Madrid 1996, p. 16). Though entirely engaging, these figures resolutely preclude interaction in their enigmatic generality.

Action and stasis vie for attention with medium and content in this work. On one level, the composition appears dynamic and ambulatory. The distinct lack of composure is tribute to Muñoz’s subversive style; almost unsettling in its slipping precarious position. However, it is resolutely static, made permanent and rooted to the spot. Moreover, in the deployment of a free-standing sculpture of burnished bronze, the artist recalls art historical precedents of wide repute and rich narrative. To then pair such a medium with his own subversive and uneasy formation, resistant to facile interpretation and liberally doused in the absurd, is typical of his playful style and microcosmic of the juxtapositions that abound in his oeuvre.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction