Light, water, fire, dust.
Step into the cosmic elements through images captured with an excess of photographer’s flash.
Peer through concave mirrors, positioned at eye level, in front of darkened windows with holes drilled into the wall before them, and witness as the art museum transforms itself into a camera.
At a new exhibit in Phoenix, visitors can now view the present through the lens of the past.
The Phoenix Art Museum partnered with the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, to present the first retrospective of Colombian contemporary artist Oscar Muñoz in the United States, curators said. The exhibit, “Oscar Muñoz: Invisibilia,” features 50 works from different collections that explore the themes of time, memory, history and knowledge. Muñoz also presents new work debuting in Phoenix.
“Muñoz is one of the most significant contemporary artists working not only in Latin America but in the world,” said Mark Koenig, interim Sybil Harrington director and CEO of the Phoenix Art Museum. “We hope audiences across the Southwest and the nation take advantage of this rare opportunity to learn about how he has redefined the medium of photography.”
Muñoz is a critically acclaimed visual artist whose work fuses photographic processes with drawing, painting, printmaking, installation, video and sculpture, said Vanessa Davidson, the curator of Latin American art at the Blanton.
He grew up in the throes of a 50-year conflict between the Colombian government and guerrilla groups, which ended with a peace accord in 2016. Thus, Muñoz said, his art explores the development of violence as reality.
The exhibit begins with Muñoz’s charcoal drawings of the late 1970s before focusing on a series of interactive photo and video works.
For example, “Biografias” is a video installation that captures five portraits, made with charcoal dust, on the surface of standing water in a white sink. The liquid drains as time passes, first distorting then destroying the physical representation of each individual Muñoz created.
“I can’t escape the artist’s complete fascination with creation, life and death,” said Sharon Dane, of Cleveland, Ohio, who did not know about Muñoz before visiting the museum.
The exhibit manifests the artist’s early experimentation with new forms of media.
“Cortinas de baño,” meaning shower curtains in Spanish, contains seven full-length sheets of plastic on which Muñoz used water and airbrush ink to cast shadows of people in the shower.
While each work conveys a different meaning, many operate to mirror the nature of amnesia as images appear and disappear following visitor engagement, Davidson said. They offer a rare glimpse at the “invisibilia” behind Muñoz’s practice, as well as his evocative imagery that endures in the viewer’s imagination.
Another visitor, Michael Henry, said the exhibition gives perspective to a current societal norm: how people represent themselves and look at photos on social media.
In the work “Aliento,” or Breath, visitors need to inhale and exhale on each of the six reflective disks to see a screen-printed image materialize. Muñoz invites spectators to build a relationship with his art, crossing the bridge between museum observation and participation.
Scattered across his work are allusions to great writers, such as George Orwell and Ray Bradbury, academics, such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Sisyphus from Greek mythology.
Muñoz pursues art from a philosophical rather than political perspective.
In 2006, he founded “lugar a dudas,” a nonprofit cultural center and residency program for young artists in Cali, Colombia, where he lives and works.
In 2018, he won the Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography. Muñoz does not consider himself a photographer.
Over the past four years, Muñoz worked closely with Davidson, the former Shawn and Joe Lampe Curator of Latin American Art at Phoenix Art Museum, to organize a checklist of collections, design and install the exhibit, Davidson said.
The two met in Cali, Colombia, several times, held meetings via Skype and Zoom, and, when it came time to mount the exhibition, Muñoz traveled to Phoenix.
“Long overdue, this exhibition seeks to uncover the philosophies and the poetics underlying this groundbreaking artist’s body of work,” Davidson said.
Museum staff collaborated on a bilingual catalog in English and Spanish, which accompanies the exhibit as the first commentary on Muñoz’s work in English, Davidson said. It incorporates two interviews with the artist and a text of his own.
“Oscar Muñoz: Invisibilia,” will be on view until Jan. 16, 2022, in the Ellen and Howard C. Katz Wing for Modern Art at the Phoenix Art Museum before moving to the Blanton.
For more information on museum prices and hours, see phxart.org/visit/.
Reach the reporter at [email protected].
Light, water, fire, dust.