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Posted 03/22/03, by Sharon Reed
Spanish sculptor's 240-pound figure hangs over stairway
The Hood Museum of Art has acquired a significant sculpture by Spanish artist Juan Muñoz (1953–2001), whose work was recently the focus of a major retrospective organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. Figure Hanging from One Foot (2001), a dramatic 240-pound bronze and galvanized steel sculpture, is a single male figure suspended by a cable over the main stairway of the Hood.
Derrick Cartwright, Director of the Hood, visited the retrospective exhibition at the Hirshhorn. "The traveling show was magnificent, large enough to suggest the creative breadth of Muñoz's too-short career, yet small enough to leave most visitors — myself included — wishing for more," he wrote. "The installation in Washington, D.C., was especially fine and was hailed as such by critics and popular accounts. The literal centerpiece of the exhibition was Figure Hanging from One Foot. This particular work struck me as a deliberately ambiguous and suggestive work, one in which a slightly smaller than life-sized male figure hangs precariously (and permanently) in mid-air with an expression on his face that can be understood as fear, but just as easily could be interpreted as glee."
Born in Madrid, Juan Muñoz traveled to London in 1976 to study at the Central School of Art and Design and the Croydon School of Art. He then moved to New York, where he attended the Pratt Graphic Center and P.S.1. Contemporary Art Center. In 1982, Muñoz returned to Spain, where he continued to live and work until his sudden death in August 2001. From his earliest exhibitions in the 1990s, Muñoz created elaborate, sometimes disturbing installations in major museums throughout the world. Although he resisted comparisons to fellow countrymen including Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, Muñoz expressed an affinity for Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978), an early-20th-century surrealist whose works also explored themes of frozen time and uncanny, stagelike situations. Installations by Muñoz have become mainstays at international art exhibitions like the Venice and Sydney biennials and at Documenta in Kassell, Germany. They typically feature groups of nearly identical cast forms in vast, enigmatic spaces. The sculpture acquired by the Hood Museum of Art is rather unique in its concentration on a single figure without relationship to other sculpted objects.
The figure, now dangling over the main staircase in the Hood, adds to the sense of drama of the space. "Visitors who miss the sculpture hanging above them on their ascent to the second floor are sometimes startled when they confront the work head-on as they make their way back down the long flight of stairs," notes Cartwright. Plans are currently underway to install the sculpture in the museum's Bedford Courtyard, where it would join a sculpture by Joel Shapiro.
- Sharon Reed
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