This spring the Art Institute of Chicago welcomes to the Bluhm Family Terrace a theatrical installation by Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz (1953–2001) that flips the experience of viewer and viewed. Many of Muñoz’s works unfold like stories in which the spectator is written into the drama. In the case of Thirteen Laughing at Each Other(2001), the viewer is thrust right into the center of the scene. By entering the installation space, one is surrounded by laughing figures seated on bleacher-like structures. From this vantage point, it quickly becomes clear that Muñoz is not merely granting the viewer unusual access to the artwork but also shifting the role of the observer to that of an unwitting subject, and potentially even an object of ridicule as the sculptural figures laugh hysterically—some toppling from their seats—at the spectacle in their midst. The work creates a tension and psychological depth that is at once unsettling and captivating. “I try to make the work engaging for the spectator,” said Muñoz. “And then unconsciously, but more interestingly, I try to make you aware that something is really wrong.”
Muñoz is regarded as a leading sculptor of his generation and among the most significant artists to have achieved maturity in post-Franco Spain. His focus on the human form set him apart from many of his contemporaries who saw figuration as outmoded. Known for emphasizing the relationship of sculpture to architecture and the viewer, Muñoz’s work is replete with references to the history of Western culture. His artistic activity includes drawings, radio plays, writings, and essays in addition to sculpture and installations.
Set on the museum’s third-floor terrace during the city’s warm summer months, Thirteen Laughing at Each Other offers visitors the chance to experience the last work created by this important artist, who referred to himself simply as a “storyteller.”
This exhibition is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago with major funding from the Bluhm Family Endowment Fund, which supports exhibitions of modern and contemporary sculpture.
Special thanks are due to the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.