Gutsy Munoz Sculpture at the Clark
Juan Muñoz was a storyteller, but the story is yours to tell, not his. In Conversation Piece five bronze below life-size figures whose legs are bagged teeter towards one another, but they aren't speaking. It's your job as the viewer to interact with them, walk around them, and decide for yourself what you make of their enigmatic placement and size. Strange and alluring, their eyes are stitched closed, but they reach out to one another yearning for something. Each statue is anchored to its spot, frozen in time, on the terrace of Stone Hill Center, the woodsy space and exhibition gallery of The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass.
In another gallery, Muñoz's Many Times is just as quirky. In this compelling installation, 50 figures of men with Asian features, all about the average size of a ten-year-old, are dressed alike in jackets and work pants. They could be factory workers on a break who have assembled for what could be a smoke or a chat. They are bald, broadly smiling and standing ---but they have no feet. Is this work about the power of a crowed or the loneliness of the individual in a crowd? Or perhaps it communicates the need to keep up pretenses no matter how grim life is.
Growing up in the Seventies when Spain was still in the grip of Franco's dictatorship Muñoz experienced repression and eventually at seventeen ran away from home to London, New York, returning eventually to Madrid after Franco died. He became well known in the 1980s for his complex sculpture and installations that explored the figure in space. Just when he seemed to be at the height of his powers, Muñoz died at 48 in 2001.
The Clark is exhibiting six of his key works, all puzzling. One of the most compelling is Seated Figures with Five Drums who are perched In a bare white gallery where the only blast of color comes from Goya's Ascencio Julia, a portrait of his assistant hanging over the fireplace. The drum motif could represent the significance of new sounds, new meanings, or advancing the future of art with a major drum beat. The five men seated in armchairs, again with their eyes stitched, also have no ears. They could even be burn victims not able to speak or hear, yet there's a curious kinship among them. Derailment, isolation, menace, and impending disaster seem to be the artist's main themes. Sadly, he died way too soon for us to see what he would do next. The exhibition is on view at the Clark now through October 17. Details at www.clarkart.edu.