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Eyes wide shut


We made our way over to the Tate Modern on Saturday to check out the new retrospective of work by Spanish artist Juan Muñoz.

Muñoz's last big exhibition at the Tate was his installation Double Bind in the turbine hall, shortly before his tragically early death in 2001.

The show is really quite brilliant. His work plays with the human figure, often at a distorted scale, and often in monochrome. It's a quiet show, but one that draws you in, allowing you to hang out in a very different world for an hour or so.

There were a couple of standout pieces for us. Many Times (above, 1999, image © The estate of Juan Muñoz) is an installation of one hundred cloned figures (based on an Art Nouveau ceramic bust that Muñoz discovered in a hotel). This crowd of smiling Asian men, all of them about 4' 6" tall, are clustered in groups, smiling and laughing. As you walk amongst them, you can't help but invent stories about them. What are they discussing? Why are they so happy? Why do they all look identical? It reminded us of the scene from Being John Malkovich (made in the same year) when John Malkovich enters his own mind and finds himself in a world populated just by John Malkovich clones. (Interestingly, Malkovich collaborated with Muñoz on a radio piece in 2001.)

You can't help wanting to join these men in their world, but there's also a feeling that you're not invited. (Muñoz said of his work: "It's always been said that statues are blind. They are looking inwards, and that looking inwards automatically excludes the receiver, the person in front.")

Stuttering Piece (1993) in the next room is small enough to almost be missed, but is a fantastic little installation of two doll-like figures engaged in a constantly looping (recorded) conversation. It's enormously reminiscent of Beckett and Pinter at their best, and reflects the theatricality present in much of Muñoz's work.

You should also make sure you check out the extra bit of the show, down on level 3, collectively called Conversation Piece.

Do try to get along, it's a great show.

As a footnote, we were gutted not to be able to take pictures at the show - we were very sternly told off when we tried, even though we were just using a camera-phone. The Tate has a rather draconian photographic policy, which we suspect might be in place to make sure that they sell lots of postcards. It's a real shame - visitors instinctively want to take pictures, and doing so brings them into a much stronger relationship with the work. You're allowed to photograph the work in the Turbine Hall, so it seems a shame not to allow it in the exhibitions.

posted: 28 January 2008
categories: Art
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