Hero image of The Wasteland as part of Juan Muñoz: Seven Rooms

Spanish artist Juan Muñoz (1953–2001) was among the most significant artists to rise to international prominence in the mid-1980s and 1990s. He sought to foreground the relationship between the art object, architectural space, and the viewer, often experimenting with illusionistic space to destabilize the viewer’s experience.

The Wasteland (1986) is one of his earliest installations and the first to use the entirety of the gallery, physically enveloping the viewer within the work itself.

Portrait of Juan Muñoz in Madrid, 2000. Photo by Cristina Iglesias

Portrait of Juan Muñoz in Madrid, 2000. Photo by Cristina Iglesias

Portrait of Juan Muñoz in Madrid, 2000. Photo by Cristina Iglesias

A bronze, steel, and linoleum installation by Juan Muñoz, titled The Wasteland, dated 1986.

Juan Muñoz

The Wasteland, 1986
Bronze, steel, and linoleum
Figure (with base): 25 x 31 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches (63.5 x 80 x 29.2 cm)
Overall dimensions vary with each installation

The work’s title refers to the 1922 T. S. Eliot poem, a classic of modernist literature significant for its theatrical address and weaving together of present-day observations with history and myth to decry a barren landscape. Deeply influenced by Eliot, Muñoz would in his own practice combine disparate fragments and use tradition as a way to expand modernism.

Book cover of The Waste Land, by T. S. Eliot. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1922, first edition

The Waste Land, by T. S. Eliot. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1922, first edition

The Waste Land, by T. S. Eliot. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1922, first edition

“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images …”

—T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land

“What matters is the walking across it.… The floor is an area of transit and a baroque device.… When the spectator walks across the floor, this stage-quality induces in him some of the awareness of the actor or, at least for a little while, it puts on hold his stance as a distant onlooker.”

—Juan Muñoz

Installation view of 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

The floor of The Wasteland is evocative of Italian architect Francesco Borromini’s baroque interiors and use of forced perspective.

A detail of Francesco Borromini interior in Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, Rome. Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta, dated 2011

Francesco Borromini interior in Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, Rome. Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta, 2011

Francesco Borromini interior in Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, Rome. Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta, 2011

“Since these perspectival distortions advanced only to negate each other, any place where the visitor rested momentarily threatened to open up, as if to plunge him or her into a vertiginous abyss, nothingness.”

—Lynne Cooke, in the catalogue for Juan Muñoz: A Place Called Abroad, Dia Center for the Arts, 1996

Installation view of 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

“At the far wall, sitting on a steel ledge, is the small ventriloquist’s dummy, looking not unlike a shrunken version of T. S. Eliot himself. What sort of wasteland is this, and what is the dummy doing on the shelf?… Have we ever thought that a simple floor, like a complex poem, could evoke the regimented horror of modern life, that sense of the living, marching dead, that Eliot evokes.”

—Michael Wood, historian

Installation view, Juan Muñoz, Galerie Joost Declercq, Ghent, 1986

Installation view, Juan Muñoz, Galerie Joost Declercq, Ghent, 1986

Installation view, Juan Muñoz, Galerie Joost Declercq, Ghent, 1986

The Wasteland was first shown at Galerie Joost Declercq, Ghent, in 1986 and has been featured in exhibitions at Tate Modern, London; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; and Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, among other museums.

Installation view of 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

“The optical floor is there to heighten the experience of the viewer, the sense of being not in front of the work, but within it. I think he was, to a degree, playing with Minimalism—sculptures that you could walk on, such as Carl Andre’s.”

—James Lingwood, associate director of Artangel

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

NEXT ROOM:
FOUR PIGGYBACKS WITH KNIVES

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