Waiting

When the contemporary Spanish artist Juan Muñoz died suddenly of an aneurysm at the age of forty-eight in 2001, he left us with his last completed work that was surely his most ambitious art installation ever, entitled Double Bind. It was described a meeting of Magritte and Dante and Piranesi and Fritz Lang, described in words of astonishment, touting critical success. Erected at the Tate Modern less than three months prior to his death, the ephemeral installation contained two industrial working elevators, a series of shafts that guided our eye visually upward to an ersatz second floor, which cut horizontally in half the enormous expanse of the museum’s Turbine Hall. Peering up into the shafts you could see enigmatic gray-colored men motionlessly walking, populating the narrow cutaway corridors.

But ten years earlier while Muñoz—considered ‘the most significant of the new generation of artists to come out of post-Franco Spain’—was in the midst of his meteoric rise to art world super-stardom with his human figures that evoked theatrical tension and themes of alienation, figures of dwarves and punch bag clowns, et al., in sandblasted fiberglass resin or bronze, he took a quick turn and created a very different sort of installation. Waiting for Jerry was as simple and whimsically empathetic as Double Bind was complex and oppressive. The installation was ‘built as a gift’ for his young daughter Lucia, with whom he had spent hours watching the cartoon “Tom and Jerry”; Lucia had unconditionally taken the side of the mouse.

A small dark room save for Jerry’s hole that was carved out of the baseboard molding and illuminated from the other side, Waiting for Jerry put the viewers ostensibly inside Jerry’s hideaway as Tom and Jerry battled it out just beyond the artificial glow of the mouse’s doorway; the soundtrack of one of the “Tom and Jerry” shows could be heard, the raucous screeching of the endless chase between the cat and the mouse. Any second Jerry would make his appearance, the viewers just had to wait. Muñoz said in an interview, discussing his two decades of work right before his Tate Modern debut, “The thing with Jerry is that when things get really really bad, he can run away from reality. And I remember sitting there thinking: I want to be like Jerry, you know! I want a place to hide!”[1]

Muñoz often spoke of his “desire to just get back to the studio and draw. Just to draw, and empty his head with a bottle of very good wine. And to astonish, always to astonish.”[2]

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[1] Tim Adams, “Breaking the mould,” The [UK] Observer, June 2, 2001.

[2] Adrian Searle, “Juan Muñoz,” The Guardian, August 30, 2001.

Additional sources: Roberta Smith, “Visions That Flaunt Cartoon Pedigrees,” New York Times, March 2, 2007; Juan Muñoz, “Juan Muñoz,” in Comic Abstraction: Image Breaking, Image Making by Roxana Marcoci, Museum of Modern Art, 2007;  Interview with Paul Schimmel in Juan Muñoz by Neal Benezra and Olga M. Viso, 2001; Marian Goodman Gallery.

(Image: Waiting for Jerry by Juan Muñoz, wall, light, audio soundtrack, dimensions variable, first shown at Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, 1991, reproduced for non-commercial use only.)


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