Oscar Munoz: Invisibilia exhibition now open at Phoenix Art Museum

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Oscar Munoz: Invisibilia exhibition now open at Phoenix Art Museum
Oscar Muñoz, Cortinas de baño (Shower Curtains), 1985-86. Acrylic on plastic (Acrílico sobre plástico). Collection of the artist. Installation view, Oscar Muñoz, Protografías, Museo de Arte del Banco de la República, Bogotá, Colombia, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist.

PHOENIX, AZ.- Phoenix Art Museum premiered Oscar Muñoz: Invisibilia, the first retrospective of work by renowned Colombian artist Oscar Muñoz presented in the United States. Co-organized by Phoenix Art Museum and the Blanton Museum of Art, the traveling exhibition is curated by Vanessa Davidson, PhD, formerly the Shawn and Joe Lampe Curator of Latin American Art at Phoenix Art Museum who now serves as Curator of Latin American Art at the Blanton. The retrospective features a wide selection of approximately 50 works created by the artist over five decades that explore themes of time, memory, history, and knowledge. Beginning with Muñoz’s early charcoal drawings from the 1970s, it features hybrid works created over the past five decades that combine photographic processes with drawing, printmaking, installation, video, sculpture, and interactive elements. The exhibition also showcases new work that has never before been exhibited. Oscar Muñoz: Invisibilia will be on view at Phoenix Art Museum through January 16, 2022 before traveling to the Blanton in Spring 2022.

“We are very excited to collaborate with the Blanton Museum of Art to bring an expansive retrospective of works by Oscar Muñoz to the United States for the first time,” said Tim Rodgers, PhD, the Sybil Harrington Director and CEO of Phoenix Art Museum. “By refining and redefining the medium of photography, Muñoz has become one of the most significant contemporary artists working not only in Latin America but in the world. We hope audiences across the Southwest and the nation take advantage of this rare opportunity to experience his powerful and deeply human artwork.”

Born in 1951 in Popayán, Colombia, Oscar Muñoz is internationally renowned for materially diverse works that bridge the media of film, video, photography, installation, and sculpture to explore such elusive yet universal themes as identity, social amnesia, memory, and the transience of life. Working in a country beset by the catastrophes of civil war, he employs ephemeral materials like light, water, fire, and dust to create portraits and experiential works that associate the precarity of the image with the fragility of life and that are simultaneously indelible and fleeting. Muñoz explores photographic processes as the foundation of his practice due to the medium’s inherent relationship with concepts of time and history, in addition to its great potential for being deconstructed and manipulated for other formal and conceptual concerns. Although he does not consider himself a photographer, Muñoz was awarded the 2018 Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography. He has been the subject of international traveling retrospectives throughout Latin America and Europe, and has been featured in various group exhibitions globally, including in Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Sweden, Spain, Paris, and New York City. His work has been acquired by numerous international private and public collections, including those of the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum (LACMA), Los Angeles, Calif.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass.; Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, N.Y.; Tate Modern, London, UK; Daros Latinamerica Collection, Zurich, Switzerland; and Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá, Colombia, among many others.

Oscar Muñoz: Invisibilia represents the first collaboration between Phoenix Art Museum and the Blanton Museum of Art. Davidson has collaborated closely with the artist himself since 2018 to create this retrospective that traces the evolution of Muñoz’s radical practice over five decades.

“Oscar Muñoz is part of an outstanding and little-known tradition of conceptual and photographic art in Colombia that has transformed the global perception and understanding of contemporary Latin American art,” said Gilbert Vicario, curator of contemporary art at Phoenix Art Museum. “Dr. Vanessa Davidson’s comprehensive and scholarly focus on Muñoz’s practice will fundamentally change the depth of understanding of this artist’s work in relation to a larger conversation on conceptually driven, lens-based work since the 1970s.”

Invisibilia features works spanning the late 1970s through 2021, from early, photo-realist charcoal drawings to never-before-seen recent works that illuminate the artist’s increasing interest in literature and the configuration of text and image upon the page. Rather than presenting works chronologically, Invisibilia is organized into four overlapping sections that explore the intertwined themes at the heart of Muñoz’s experimental approach. Presence/Absence features works that examine the empty spaces that remain where once there was a concrete form or physical being. It explores the tension between our ability to see and our blindness to experiences or histories that we might rather forget or that are physically erased, replaced, or obscured from view. Memory/Amnesia highlights work that refers to the impossibility of permanence, especially in relation to the corrosion or transfiguration of memory over time and humanity’s tendency toward social amnesia. Appearance/Disappearance showcases works that often operate cyclically and evoke associations with the fragility of the image, the malleability of time, and the precariousness of life itself. Finally, Cohesion/Fragmentation presents works that are self-referential with regards to both process and conceptual content, frequently providing fleeting visual clues that viewers must actively complete in their own imaginations.

Key artworks in Invisibilia include:

• Cortinas de baño (Shower Curtains) (1985-1986), a large-scale installation that fuses method with meaning, creating shadows of people in the bath by using water and airbrushed ink in serigraphs on plastic curtains. The resulting images are ghostly traces of absent bodies at their most intimate and vulnerable—nude and unguarded as they perform their daily ritual. Viewers are transformed into voyeurs of these shadowy specters.

• Ambulatorio (Walking Place/Outpatient Ward) (1994-2008), an installation of a large aerial photograph of Cali, Colombia, printed on sheets of shattered security glass on which viewers are invited to walk and gaze down upon the city. Based on the experiences of several bombings in Cali, the glass crackles and fractures underfoot, just as urban pedestrians tread streets littered with glass after bomb explosions shattered windows in buildings.

• Aliento (Breath) (1995), a series of seemingly blank mirrors that, when breathed upon by the viewer, momentarily reveal obituary portraits of those who have “disappeared” in armed conflict or otherwise. Here, there is a mirroring of presence and absence, memory and oblivion, as images of the disappeared dead appear only to disappear again when viewers are not looking at and breathing upon them.

• Re/trato (Portrait/I Try Again)(2004), a video work depicting the artist attempting to paint a self-portrait with water on sun-warmed pavement, an image that quickly vanishes once the liquid makes contact with the hot ground. Viewers watch as Muñoz tries in vain again and again to complete the image over the course of 28 uninterrupted minutes.

• Paístiempo/Countrytime (2007),a work featuring images and texts pyro-engraved on newsprint that dissolve and disintegrate as the pages are turned, mirroring the immediate obsolescence of periodical content after it is printed as well as Colombians’ numbing overexposure to violence in the news.

• Libro abierto (Open Book) (2019), a book of shadowy photographic prints whose pages show a ghostly hand in the midst of turning pages, creating the optical illusion that the viewer is watching this action in progress.

“The universality of Oscar Muñoz’s work lies in his exploration of far-reaching themes of identity, time, knowledge, and history in diverse media,” said Davidson. “As viewers experience the exhibition, I hope they consider the ways in which Muñoz uses the simplest means, such as water on cement, to illustrate the transience of the image as a metaphor for the transience of life. Muñoz strives to ‘hacer memoria’—to ’make memory’— in his work. I also hope visitors contemplate how the meanings of the photographs they take and keep to document their own lives change over time, and how they help to build memory and community. What do our selfies say about us, and how do they themselves ‘make memory’?”

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