Juan Muñoz

The Politics of Silence

by Mark Stuart-Smith (Author)
©2024 Monographs XVIII, 370 Pages
Series: Cultural Memories, Volume 21


«Through marvelously attentive case studies of a handful of works, some canonical, others obscure, Mark Stuart-Smith provides the most thorough exploration so far of Juan Muñoz’s mesmerizing and haunted world. He inhabits the works, analyzing their mechanisms, materialities and drama, while at the same time connecting them to histories of politics, art and thought of great urgency to Muñoz and no less urgency now. This book has much to say not only about the forces and voices of silence but also about Muñoz’s extraordinary struggle to make art that could hold its own against the fascinations of image and spectacle.»
(Michael Brenson, author of David Smith: The Art and Life of a Transformational Sculptor (2022))
The spectacular international success of the Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz has tended to encourage a critical framing of the artist’s work within narratives of global postmodernist innovation. This book, the first in-depth study of the central idea of silence in Muñoz’s work, aims to position him more clearly within his historical moment, by reading his work against the silences of Spanish politics and culture in post-Civil War Spain.
Drawing on a wealth of documents, beginning with Muñoz’s student notebooks, the book shows how silence and memory defined and shaped his art. A range of methodologies from within Muñoz’s own intellectual horizon is applied to explore a progression from the implied silences of his sculptural installations to the literal sounds and silences of his first radio piece. Muñoz’s silencing strategies are analysed across different mediums, both visual and verbal, to show how his art probes and reanimates the uncanny memory of Spain’s traumatic past.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1 Ventriloquism
  • Introduction
  • The Floor
  • The Dummy
  • A Man up a Lamppost
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 2 Memory
  • Introduction
  • The Time of the Pose
  • Deferral
  • Centelles’s Photograph
  • 17 February 1936
  • Memory and Silence
  • Baroque Ruins
  • Dwarf with Three Columns
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3 A Place Called Abroad
  • Introduction
  • Muñoz’s Transition
  • Madrid 1982
  • Young Spanish Art
  • The Exhibition as Artwork
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 4 Absence
  • Introduction
  • The Spoken Image
  • The Blind Point
  • An Infinite Relation
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 5 Voice
  • Introduction
  • Signposts for a Labyrinth
  • Did You See? … Did You See?
  • Con Tricks
  • Collaboration and Conspiracy
  • The Artist’s Voice
  • The Artist’s Word
  • Conclusion
  • Afterword
  • Bibliography
  • Index


This book, which has taken a decade and a half to prepare, would have been impossible without the help of many kind people. My first thanks must go to Laurel Plapp and Katia Pizzi at Peter Lang, whose brilliant and understated support and efficiency have helped to bring the book to print. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Professor Simon Shaw-Miller, and Dr Mari Paz Balibrea Enriquez, my PhD supervisors at Birkbeck (respectively, at the Department of History of Art and Screen Media, and the Department of Iberian and Latin American Studies), for their generous and expert guidance and inspiration in the initial stages of my research from 2008 to 2012. I would like to thank Cristina Iglesias for her kindness in welcoming me at the Juan Muñoz archive in Torrelodones, and for a number of very helpful and thought-provoking conversations about Muñoz’s work. Roughly half the images reproduced in the book have also been provided thanks to Cristina, her daughter Lucía, and ultimately Juan Muñoz himself, who always wished to share his archival material as freely as possible. Warm thanks are also due to Sandra Feio for helping me to find my way around the Juan Muñoz archive, and for her good humour and patience in response to what must sometimes have seemed like a never-ending stream of requests.

During my doctoral research I was fortunate to be able to test some of the arguments of the book in the History of Art and Screen Media department at Birkbeck, both with teaching staff, including Dr Tag Gronberg, and with fellow candidates. I am also grateful for the friendly support of Professor Zoltan Biedermann, Professor John Kraniauskas and others at the then department of Iberian and Latin American studies at Birkbeck, and for invitations to present papers on Muñoz’s work at the Courtauld Institute (2012) and Warwick University (2011 and 2016). I would like to express particular thanks for various stimulating and richly informative discussions with Professor Maria Delgado, Professor Dawn Ades, Rosa Olivares, Gavin Bryars, Adrian Searle, James Lingwood, Joost Declerq, and two of Juan Muñoz’s siblings, Vicente Muñoz Torregrossa and Victoria de Talhora. I am also grateful for the helpful and encouraging commentaries of the two anonymous peer reviewers. A number of friends and colleagues have kindly sampled parts of the book at different stages, providing a vital and sometimes bracing sense of how the narrative might play from the reader’s perspective. These include Juan Aranzadi, Celia Montolío, Angeles Jiménez Perona, Tommaso Gorla, Irina Chkhaidze, Eva Nieto McEvoy, Frank Ferrie, Christos Logothetis, Britt Harrison, Kate Docherty, Tom and Sue Stuart-Smith, Caroline Oulton, and Rebecca Penrose – who lent me her copy of Muñoz’s 2001 catalogue Hirschorn before I decided to write about his work, and has never once asked for it back. Finally, to Juan Aranzadi and Celia Montolío (again), who prompted my attachment to Spain in the first place, and who fed and inspired (albeit with occasional scepticism) my fascination with twentieth-century Spanish history and art: more thanks than I can express.



It is worthwhile to remember, as Borges is so fond of doing, that oblivion is a form, perhaps the highest form, of memory.

– Juan Muñoz1

This book is about Juan Muñoz’s silences, so it will begin with a typically peculiar, disconcerting silence. Imagine you are standing in the vast, pristine gallery occupied by The Wasteland, momentarily dazzled by its vibrant emptiness (Fig. 1). A geometrical floor pattern slides away under the four walls, and as you start to move through the gallery the pattern buckles and mutates around you. You feel exposed and awkwardly self-aware in the force field of the room. On a shelf against a far-off wall sits a small dark ventriloquist’s dummy cast in bronze. It is alone and abandoned, hovering above the patterned floor with a concentrated presence that sharpens the silence of the gallery. The first impression of clarity gives way to a troubling incongruity. A feeling of obscure malevolence reigns and you wonder: what is this cryptic installation doing? What tricks is it playing?

Fig. 1.Juan Muñoz, The Wasteland, 1986. Bronze, steel and linoleum, dimensions variable. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, installation view, 2009. © The Estate of Juan Muñoz. Photo: Reina Sofia.

Fig. 1.Juan Muñoz, The Wasteland, 1986. Bronze, steel and linoleum, dimensions variable. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, installation view, 2009. © The Estate of Juan Muñoz. Photo: Reina Sofia.


XVIII, 370
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2024 (February)
absence/ presence allegory anamorphosis belief democratic transition ekphrasis entropy geometry history iconoclasm memory modernism music otherness perspective phenomenology photography point of view public sculpture radio readymade silence simulacrum spectacle time ventriloquism voice
Oxford, Berlin, Bruxelles, Chennai, Lausanne, New York, 2024. XVIII, 370 pp., 23 fig. col., 32 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Mark Stuart-Smith (Author)

Mark Stuart-Smith is an art historian and visual artist. He teaches art and art history in London.


Title: Juan Muñoz