Juan Muñoz: An Inaccessible Moment @ Frith Street Gallery

Frith Street Gallery showcases an exhibition of selected works by Spanish artist Juan Muñoz (1953-2001) titled ‘An Inaccessible Moment’. Co-curated by Jane Hamlyn and Guardian art critic Adrian Searle, the show comprises of drawings, prints and sculptures occupying the gallery’s two floors.

Despite their monochromatic (slate grey) colouring and their size, which is smaller than life-size, the five in total fibreglass and polyester resin figures look very much human like and they are all positioned in numerous curious ways. One man is leaning forward holding his own head with bronze tiny human figurines sprouting from his mouth, another carries a bright yellow shroud and the only figure on the basement holds with his eyes closed a bright fluorescent tube light. These figures were initially created to be included in Muñoz’s ‘Double Bind’ Turbine Hall Unilever commission at Tate Modern in 2001 but didn’t make the final cut. The Tate work featured static figures -similar to the ones currently exhibited at Frith Street Gallery- engaged in intense and somewhat enigmatic activities over two floors of the given space and linked by passenger lifts. ‘Double Bind’ was one of the most fascinating projects that gave Tate visitors the opportunity to experience Muñoz‘s parallel worlds through illusion and the balancing between perspective, visibility and invisibility.

The Frith Street Gallery exhibition also includes 11 figure studies (oilstick on white paper) produced between 1991 and 1996 and a selection from the artist’s Mobilario Series depicting domestic interiors with pieces of furniture floating against dark backgrounds.

Muñoz‘s sculptural figures are either engaged in some sort of inanimate dialogue with each other or are experiencing complete alienation. The figures currently on show demonstrate this very isolation, which becomes evident not only by their physical separation but also by the lack of individuality. The five figures are anonymous beings with no traces of personal identity and emerge as echoes of human detritus; their monochromatic appearance attests this intense isolation and reveals the perseverance of an esoteric drama even further. The careful placement of the figures around the gallery space is a great reminder of Muñoz‘s keen interest in theatricality, which for him was not strictly linked with theatre itself but it was more an amalgamation of spatial arrangement, architectural element organisation and figurative conceptualisation.

Time and its properties have also played a vital role in Muñoz‘s career. The freezing and the suspension of time in his sculptures reflect his immense interest in Giorgio de Chirico’s work from an early stage. And this particular sensation of space and time crystallisation hits us as soon as we enter Frith Street Gallery. The Mobilario works downstairs are also a great sample of Muñoz‘s affection for illusion and manipulation of space. Time components are also of no significance here. The placement of the fifth figure with the fluorescent light right here is not coincidental. There is a great emphasis on the artist’s painstaking -and successful- efforts to manipulate light throughout his work.

The Frith Street Gallery show is not a retrospective but a concentrated selection (‘moment’) of rarely seen (‘inaccessible’) works by Muñoz in memory of his sudden death during his Tate installation 11 years ago. The exhibited pieces must be seen as outstanding samples of the artist’s main trajectories and we are given a great chance for a veritable insight into his inspirations. The exhibited works take us on a journey to Muñoz’s talent and calibre through his visual language that overpoweringly deals with the exploration and experimentation of perspective, illusion and reality.