Lot 10
  • 10

Juan Muñoz

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Juan Muñoz
  • Conversation Piece V 1/1
  • each: signed and numbered 1/1 and 1-3, 2-3 and 3-3 respectively
  • bronze, in three parts
  • each: 160 by 80 by 80cm.; 63 by 31 1/2 by 31 1/2 in.
  • Executed in 2001.


Achenbach Kunstberatung GmbH, Dusseldorf (acquired directly form the artist)

Private Collection, Germany


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonality of the sculptures is deeper and richer with a dark chocolate finish in the originals. Condition: This work is in very good condition and has an even rich brown patina across the surface of the three sculptures. Due to the nature of the works, which allows for them to be installed outdoors, each figure has been recently professionally cleaned and re-waxed. There are small, isolated areas, notably towards the bottom of each sculpture, that appear lightly burnished. A professional report is available from the department upon request.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Juan Muñoz's Conversation Piece V 1/1 is a masterful example from the artist's most renowned series. The original slightly earlier Conversation Piece V is exhibited at the de Young Museum Sculpture Garden, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. The present work focuses on the key concerns of the artist's unique sculptural language; namely the tension between reality and illusion, the familiar with the uncanny. The characteristics and staging of Muñoz's Conversation Pieces heighten the spectator’s sense of self-reflection, and encourage us to question the fundamentals of human interaction and communication within our social contemporary reality. Fascinated by the tripartite relationship that exists between figurative sculpture, the architectural environment in which they are placed, and the transitory viewer, Muñoz orchestrates the scene of the present work with a masterful theatricality that oscillates between gestural expression and contemplative reflection. The present three figures bare the prototypical characteristics of Muñoz's figurative works: muted faces, veiled eyes searching for a seemingly unachievable focus, and frozen gesticulations, intimating movement that will never be possible. Sited atop oversized and bulbous bases that are at once wrinkled and bulging, limp and unwieldy, the figures exist in a precarious balance, transforming their environment into a dramatic space in which their mysterious narrative unfolds.

In the present example, the viewer is faced with what appears to be a conversation between two figures, whilst the third looks over toward them. Whether the conversation can be heard or whether they are aware of the singular figure’s presence is unclear. The viewer is brought into the sculptural space, altering their usual role as they become immersed in the physicality of the stage drama. There is the realisation that there may not in fact be any communication or interaction at all between these characters. Upon closer inspection, each figure is enveloped in ambiguity and isolation, in their own eternal silence. Mouths are sealed and one figure’s head is tilted downwards, blocking any possible communication with the others. The figures are familiar yet foreign at the same time; they exist between the figural and the abstract, having been stripped of fully human formation and although appearing tangible, are solid and cold to the touch. Muñoz intentionally increases this division to ensure there is not an ease of recognition or familiarity between his figures and the viewer. The artist thus evokes a self-awareness in response to the impossibility of alignment with the sculpted Other. James Lingwood explains, “It is 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).

Ironically, the term "conversation piece" was originally used to describe Dutch and English painting from the early Eighteenth Century that celebrated the patrician lifestyle through the portrayal of families and friends, gathered together in informal social interaction.  The term, here appropriated by Muñoz towards a more anxious application, suggests a revaluation of the human condition within the modern world, and implies a reality of social distance, disenfranchisement and stuttered meaning. Muñoz explained, "My characters sometimes behave as a mirror that cannot reflect. They are there to tell you something about your looking, but they cannot, because they don't let you see yourself" (the artist in conversation with Paul Schimmel in September 2000, cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, Washington, Hirschhorn Museum, Juan Muñoz, 2002, p. 150). Where the Minimalists sought to unify the viewer and the work, Muñoz's interest was focused more pointedly on the revelation of their disjunction and separation. To this end, Muñoz's ultimate goal can be understood to be more closely aligned to the concerns engaging the theatrical work of Samuel Beckett, the master of modern alienation.

Muñoz adopts the role of a mute yet compelling storyteller. We happen upon a visual conundrum which arouses curiosity and uncertainty. This work is both deeply compelling and disturbing. Characteristically ambiguous, Conversation Piece V 1/1 weaves a powerfully open-ended narrative and involves the viewer both on a physical and intellectual level, capturing and demanding their imagination and participation. The three captivating sculptures of Conversation Piece V 1/1 create a dislocated landscape and absorb completely the viewers’ attention, forcing one to approach closely and to investigate the scene from all possible physical and psychological angles.