Friday, April 13, 2012

juan muñoz : "the last conversation piece"

The series of ten Instagram photos above were taken at the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, just outside the Hirshhorn Museum of Art building in Washington, D.C. last Sunday. I have always loved this cluster of five sculptures featured here in the photos, and have taken pictures of them many times, but never really as a "series". The art was created by Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz and is called "The Last Conversation Piece", completed in 1995. Muñoz had made quite a few of these humanoid-based sculptures, which resemble people, more specifically male figures with beanbag-like lower bodies, all interacting, and intended to tell a story, which was something the artist specialized in. 

Doing an online search, I'm far from being the first person to photograph (and in some cases film) "The Last Conversation Piece" as a cohesive series, however, this was my first real effort at getting to know and really attempt to understand and explore the work. Who knows - maybe I'm the first to do this through the medium of Instagram, though I doubt that even. Whatever the case, photography, and probably even more so with drawing, allows the viewer to do just that. Just what kind of story was the artist trying to tell here? Was there a specific, concrete meaning behind it or was it more of a vague commentary on human behavior, left open to viewer interpretation? I'd imagine it was a little bit of both, and from what I gather through the lens of my own perception is the work reflecting the darker, lower, and perhaps weaker side of humanity. Despite the subject matter, this is one of the most striking and dynamic three-dimensional works to grace the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, and truly has to be seen and mindfully viewed to be fully appreciated. 

Sculpture, especially on a larger scale, like this, and the act of being a sculptor has my full respect, as someone who has dabbled in some smaller-scale exercises in stone, ceramic and copper. There is a real commitment to being an artist and to the act of creating art, and believing in your creations, more so than any other medium, for a good number of reasons. Art in the round works on so many more levels than a two-dimensional work, and while any of these images could easily work as a powerful painting, as sculpture, you experience the piece from what could be an infinite number of angles and perspectives. What I love is how cleverly and strategically these five figures have been composed, and it's easy to imagine them completely and fully animated. 

Sadly, Juan Muñoz died at the young age of 48, from an odd, sudden health-related occurrence in 2001. He died at what could have very well been the peak of his artistic career, and I think if the man were still alive, he would have easily established himself as one of the great sculptors of our time. In the meantime I just ordered what looks to be a fairly comprehensive hardcover book about the artist and his work, and I look forward to getting to know Muñoz much more in the near future.