Contemporary Metropolitan Museums

Oscar Muñoz – Retrospective

New Years Eve 2021 —

With masks on, we feel safe in the palatial space of the Phoenix Art Museum while the Omicron variant of Covid-19 rages through the population of the U.S. We’re traveling like so many people do this time of year, and while the museum has a blockbuster show about mining in the West, we don’t have much time, here, before the museum closes for the holiday. Museum going has been something we’ve sacrificed during Covid, but not eliminated.

We drove this leg of our trip intent on seeing the work of Oscar Muñoz. He’s a Colombian artist who I have not studied, but who stood out for me in a large group show of video work at the Denver Art Museum in 2011. I remembered his name because I had picked his work out as a favorite the previous year at a biennial – huge – show at SITE Santa Fe. I wanted more, and this show is billed as a mid-career retrospective. Muñoz is more than sixty years old, so I like the idea that I can see this show and anticipate another large chuck of his work to come.

Like many retrospectives, chronology dictates the flow of the work and we start with intense figure drawings in black and white. Learning to draw in school is learning illusion and acquiring an ability make marks on a page look like full round life-like forms. These drawings show the Muñoz can do just that. What else do we see that fools us? Step along through this show and we will find out.

One large gallery is dedicated to a long video projection of a wall of photographs. The room is dark and I was alone in the room until suddenly someone was rearranging the photographs. The artist appeared in the video doing this – a task we all do all the time. The illusion that I was in the room with the artist while he made choices was a surprise, but more so was the realization that I am always moving things so they are more pleasing to me. And by things I mean words, pictures, my shoes, food on a plate, plants in a garden.

The Chronology

The shower curtain drawings

White pictures frames with nothing in them

Photos on a bridge from the collection of a commercial tourist photographer

Self portraits made with cigarette burns

Video where we watch re-arranging of photographs

Video of the artist arranging images

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