Hero image of Four Piggybacks with Knives as part of Juan Muñoz: Seven Rooms

“I sometimes feel unable to escape some quite general conditions of the history of sculpture. The act of making a figurative sculpture means working within a very limited language, but one which has an incredible range within those limits.”

—Juan Muñoz

A portrait of Juan Muñoz, undated

Portrait of Juan Muñoz

Portrait of Juan Muñoz

Muñoz spent time living and training in both New York and London, and this close proximity to institutions and artists led to an interest in reinterpreting the tradition of classical and baroque sculpture, returning to the figure at a time when it was very much out of vogue in the broader art world.

An installation with bronze with grey patina sculptures by Juan Muñoz, titled Four Piggybacks with knives, dated 2001.

Juan Muñoz

Four Piggybacks with knives, 2001
Bronze with grey patina
Group I: 58 1/2 x 26 x 23 5/8 inches (148.5 x 66 x 60 cm)
Group II: 59 1/2 x 27 1/2 x 22 7/8 inches (151 x 70 x 58 cm)
Group III: 59 7/8 x 24 3/8 x 19 3/4 inches (152 x 62 x 50 cm)
Group IV: 61 3/8 x 23 1/4 x 22 inches (156 x 59 x 56 cm)
Overall dimensions vary with each installation

The late work Four Piggybacks with knives (2001) resembles classical figurative sculpture at first glance. Four men dressed in suits carry four others by piggyback; their clothing drapes fluidly, recalling classical Greek sculpture.

A close-up of one of the sculptures in Four Piggybacks with Knives, dated 2022

Installation view, Juan Muñoz: Seven Rooms, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Juan Muñoz: Seven Rooms, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Holding pocketknives—a recurring motif in the artist’s visual vocabulary since the 1987 work First Banister—Muñoz’s smiling doppelgängers are engaged in a mysterious dynamic. It is unclear who is aggressing upon whom (if anyone at all) as they circle each other, highlighting the thin distinction between pleasure and pain, pursuer and pursued. 

Installation view of the exhibition Juan Muñoz: Seven Rooms at David Zwirner New York, dated 2022

Installation view, Juan Muñoz: Seven Rooms, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Juan Muñoz: Seven Rooms, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Their tragicomic setup recalls Goya’s satirical allegories of nineteenth-century Spanish society, particularly evident in his late drawings. As Michael Brenson explains, “[Muñoz’s] work is filled with laughter, but it is a hard laughter, uproarious and convulsive and occasionally a bit mad.”

A detail view from a watercolor drawing by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, titled Constable Lampiños stitched into a dead horse, undated

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Constable Lampiños stitched into a dead horse, n.d. (detail)

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Constable Lampiños stitched into a dead horse, n.d. (detail)

A drawing titled Thou who canst not (Tu que no puedes.), plate 42 from Los Caprichos by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, dated 1799

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Thou who canst not (Tu que no puedes.), plate 42 from Los Caprichos, 1799

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Thou who canst not (Tu que no puedes.), plate 42 from Los Caprichos, 1799

Installation view of the sculpture titled Andrew Head/Andrew Head, Stacked by Bruce Nauman, dated 1990

Bruce Nauman, Andrew Head/Andrew Head, Stacked, 1990

Bruce Nauman, Andrew Head/Andrew Head, Stacked, 1990

Among the small group of artists that Muñoz regarded as his peers was Bruce Nauman. By the late 1980s both artists had shifted their focus to the sculptural representation of the human figure, approached with the intent of creating a situation that would leave viewers with a simultaneous sense of recognition of and alienation from the form.

Installation view of the exhibition Juan Muñoz: Seven Rooms at David Zwirner New York, dated 2022

Installation view, Juan Muñoz: Seven Rooms, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Juan Muñoz: Seven Rooms, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

“[Muñoz] was searching for an analysis of the human condition that wasn’t presently available in the figuration of our time. In short, to show man at his wit’s end: silent, a dumb show of depression obsessing our private lives.”

—Richard Serra, in the eulogy for Juan Muñoz at his memorial service, 2001

An installation view of the works Hanging Figures featured in the exhibition titled Juan Muñoz: Seven Rooms, David Zwirner, New York, dated 2022

Installation view, Juan Muñoz: Seven Rooms, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Installation view, Juan Muñoz: Seven Rooms, David Zwirner, New York, 2022

Background image for the CTA button that takes you to the room titled Schwelle

NEXT ROOM: SCHWELLE

    Read More Read Less

      Read More Read Less

          Inquire

          To learn more about this artwork, please provide your contact information.

          By sharing your details you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.
          This site is also protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

          Inquire

          To learn more about available works, please provide your contact information

          By sharing your details you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions.This site is also
          protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.