Lot 64
  • 64

Juan Muñoz

750,000 - 950,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Juan Muñoz
  • The Wasteland
  • bronze, steel and linoleoum
  • dimensions variable to fit size of room of installation
  • Executed in 1987.


Joost Declercq, Ghent
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1991


Valencia, IVAM Centre del Carme, Juan Muñoz, April - June 1992, illustrated
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Monólogos y diálogos, monologues & dialogues, October 1996 - January 1997, p. 43, illustrated in color
North Miami, Museum of Contemporary Art; Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum, Tableaux, May - November 1997, n.p., illustrated in color and illustrated in color on the cover
Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Los Angeles, Museum Of Contemporary Art; Chicago; Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum, Juan Muñoz, October 2001 - March 2003, cat. no. 19, pp. 96-97, illustrated in color
London, Tate Modern; Bilbao, Guggenheim Bilbao; Porto, Museu Serralves; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Juan Muñoz: A Retrospective, January 2008 - January 2009, pp. 22-23, illustrated in color and fig. 10, p. 107, illustrated in color


This work is in very good condition. The bottom of the bronze figure has slight burnishing and oxidation where the figure makes contact with the shelf, none of which is visible when installed on the steel shelf. There is minute minor pitting on the outer end of the sleeve to the right as illustrated in our catalogue. For the steel shelf, there are a few minor scratches and scuffs relating to previous installations of the figure when he is seated on the shelf. There is scattered wear to the patina as part of the aging process of steel and may be inherent to the work from the time of execution. As noted in the catalogue, the dimensions of the work are variable to fit the size of the room in which the work is installed. As a matter of convenience, Sotheby's can provide a sample of the design for the linoleum floor and it is the artist's intent that the design be replicated wall to wall.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Exhibited widely and written about extensively, Juan Muñoz's The Wasteland is the quintessential tableaux installation for this young artist who created his own world of sculptural invention that was both enigmatic and theatrical.  Influenced by the Minimalists of the 1960s, Muñoz reveled in the exploration of sculpture and its interaction within an environment, firmly denying the traditional role of the pedestal in sculptural constructions. In these room installations, the viewer directly experiences both the intimacy of the characters that inhabit the space, as well as a remoteness derived from some degree of dislocation or displacement in the visual tone Muñoz establishes. The Wasteland presents one of Muñoz classically quiet figures perched on a shelf across an expanse of floor that is optically intense and even threatening, yet even in the midst of such a charged interior space, it is the sculptural figure that quietly alters the atmosphere in which it is placed. The viewer, in turn, is caught in an oscillating sense of vicarious involvement and estranged exclusion that is typical of the artist's oeuvre.

A true student of theater, Muñoz captured those nuances of gesture that so perfectly reveal human nature in his sculptures, and was equally adept at conveying the unsettling aura elicited by the absence of any sign of animation. In The Wasteland, Muñoz's bronze figure is a ventriloquist's dummy, joining an array of diminutive sculptures that the artist chose to depict in a scale that was smaller than life.  Dwarfs have appeared in paintings of earlier eras and Muñoz was particularly drawn to the work of another great Spanish artist, Diego Velázquez, the 17th century painter at the court of King Philip IV. Dwarfs were part of many royal entourages of the time, and as an historic archetype of the marginalized person, the dwarf represents a suitable reference for Muñoz's complex interior scenes.  As Bonnie Clearwater observed about the present work when it was included in the artist's 1997 exhibition titled Tableaux and featured on the catalogue cover, "Ventriloquist dummies and dwarfs are stock characters in Munoz's works. Historically, puppets and dwarfs as court clowns spoke the forbidden. For Muñoz,  the dwarf and the dummy also represent the "other" and their presence in Muñoz's work further contributes to a sense of discomfort as the viewer judges the scale of the installation according to the size of the sculpture. In The Wasteland, the positioning of the dummy low on the wall directs attention towards the ground, where the viewer cannot escape the dizzying abstract pattern of the floor. "(Exh. Cat., Miami, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tableaux, 1997, pp. 9-10).

In The Wasteland, the size of the patterned floor is determined by and varies with the space in which it is installed, transforming it into the most graphically dramatic segment of the spatial interior; in effect, it becomes another character in the affecting tableaux. The weaving perspectives in this elaborately optical design serve to warp our senses, creating a sense of danger if we were to advance into the interior to approach the figure for closer inspection.  As a result, The Wasteland possesses a sense of stasis that affects time, not just space, in our engagement of the work.  In a July 1990 interview with Iwana Blazwick, James Lingwood and Andrea Schlieker, Muñoz responded to a query about the sense of absence or loss in the work of the late 1980s: "I sometimes feel that my recent work is about waiting, waiting for something to happen that might never happen; on the other hand afraid in case it does happen, or even wishing that it never occurred. It is like keeping a work in that state that we would call desire - keeping it at that level of desire, just holding it there, that wish, that uncertainty, keeping the work still just there. Or like watching a door that someday a person might open." (Exh. Cat., Madrid, Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Juan Muñoz: Monologues and Dialogues, 1996, p. 65).

T. S. Eliot was one of the foremost figures in Modernist literature, as both a poet and a playwright, and it is revealing that Muñoz chose his 1922 opus The Waste Land as the title for one of his tableaux. Long considered a touchstone of 20th century literature, The Waste Land possesses an enigmatic shifting of tones, speakers, locations and time that is a perfect mirror for the quality of elusiveness that Muñoz sought in his work.   As a superlative example of the artist's success at capturing this quality, Muñoz's The Wasteland was included in many major retrospectives of the artist's work including the 2008 exhibition that originated at Tate Modern in London.  In the catalogue for the exhibition, Michael Wood elaborated on the conceptual connection between the work of Eliot and Muñoz as they both grapple with "what understanding is like. The floor is quite empty. At the far wall, sitting on a steel ledge, is a small bronze figure of a ventriloquist dummy, looking not unlike a shrunken version of T.S. Eliot himself. What sort of Wasteland is this, and what is the dummy doing on the shelf? He seems quite comfortable, and doesn't appear to be missing his master or the realm of his speech. But he can't move, and we can't cross the geometric floor to get to him. Do we want to get to him? What would we do if we reached him? Are we the speaker he is waiting for, the master who has abandoned him there? Why does his calm so disturb us? Have we ever thought that a simple floor, like a complex poem, could evoke the regimented horror of modern life, that the sense of living, marching dead, that Eliot evokes through the brilliant collocation of City businessman and Dante's limbo:
'A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.'
One could ask quite different questions, grasp at other stories. The point, here as elsewhere, is a double one. We can't begin to respond to this installation without conjuring up some kind of story. The story starts in us as soon as we are looking. Munoz is a storyteller, as he says. And the story we conjure up will always end in a puzzle, an urgent helplessness of mind and heart. ....Munoz himself in conversation expresses the logical double-bind both casually and clearly. 'I build these works to explain to myself things that I cannot understand otherwise. The work should somehow remain enigmatic to me.' Once we have even half understood how an enigma can be an explanation, we are a long way into Munoz's world; and our own ordinary world, as I have suggested, is already not what it was." (Michael Wood, "To Double Business Bound" in Exh. Cat., London, Tate Modern, Juan Munoz: A Retrospective, 2008, pp. 107-108).