"He Still Walks Beside Me:" Art Critic Adrian Searle on Curating the Work of his Late Friend Juan Muñoz

"He Still Walks Beside Me:" Art Critic Adrian Searle on Curating the Work of his Late Friend Juan Muñoz
Juan Muñoz, Untitled (detail), c.1991 - 1996
(Courtesy the artist, the artist's estate and Frith Street Gallery, London )

Juan Muñoz's oneiric sculptural scenarios present a skewed version of reality — one infused, former Tate curator Sheena Wagstaff once noted, with a "Borgesian notion of slippage between fact and fiction." When the Spanish artist died in 2001, aged 48, he was at the peak of his career. The same year, "Double Bind," Tate Modern's second Turbine Hall commission, had enthralled visitors with its set of static characters suggesting a parallel world stuck between the institution's floors and walls; a large mid-career retrospective was about to tour America. More than ten years later, the public's fascination for Muñoz's work still endures.

Next week, Frith Street Gallery is opening "Juan Muñoz: An inaccessible moment." Curated by the gallery's Jane Hamlyn and Guardian's art critic Adrian Searle — both close friends of the artist's — the exhibition gathers rarely-shown works on paper and sculptures that were destined for "Double Bind" but didn't make the final cut. Searle shared with ARTINFO UK some of the thinking behind this much-anticipated exhibition.

What was the starting point for this show?

It is a little over a decade since the death of Juan Muñoz (in August 2001) and Jane Hamlyn at Frith Street Gallery and I thought it was an appropriate moment to make an exhibition which would both commemorate our late friend and also the importance London had for him for many years [Muñoz studied at Croydon School of Art and the Central School of Art and Design, and met his wife, the sculptor Cristina Iglesias, in London, Ed.]. The show is quite concentrated — a number of figures, some drawings, a group of very large prints. 

How do you remember Muñoz?

Muñoz was my closest friend, for over a decade. I remember most his voice, which of course can be heard on the sound work "Man in a Room, Gambling" [1992] which he made with the British composer Gavin Bryars. In a way he still walks beside me. He was an exhilarating companion, and we collaborated on several projects together. He encouraged me to stop trying to be an artist and to focus on my writing, and to take more risks.

What do you think sets him apart?

What set him apart? He worked in so many ways - as a sculptor, as a maker of sound works, as a writer. I remember him as a choreographer of space, as an illusionist, as a storyteller. And as a man who liked to project the idea that he was both an intellectual (which he was) and a bit of a gangster (which was one of his illusions).

Could you tell me about the sculptures that were meant to be shown at Tate? 

The figures here were amongst many that were originally intended to be shown as part of "Double Bind," [2001] in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. In the end, he didn't use them, and they went back to the studio outside Madrid. One, which uses a cast of his own head, was reworked that summer before he died. Throughout his career he would rework sculptures, reconfigure and adapt them.  

How do you think this show will complement, or dialogue with the 2008 Tate exhibition?  

The Tate show was a retrospective. The best version of it, with many significant changes, was staged by Lynne Cook at the Reina Sofia in Madrid. That's where it really came alive. The show at Frith Street is a very different kind of exhibition, with a very different aim. It is not a retrospective. We hope it allows the works to tell their own stories rather than trying to tell the story of the artist's development. It has a kind of drama, and we hope that it catches Juan's spirit.

"Juan Muñoz: An inaccessible moment," April 25 – June 20, 2012, Frith Street Gallery, London