The Nature of Visual Illusion, 1994-1997

Installation, Dimensions variable

In the early nineties, Juan Muñoz began making figurative sculptural installations that were intrinsically narrative and included numerous references to the history of Western culture, and that led to the renewal of the language of contemporary sculpture. Muñoz created unsettling human figures, puppets and acrobats, or the kind of dolls mounted on a base that always return to a vertical position, and placed them in unexpected surroundings. The settings coulc be open spaces with blind balconies and handrails that don’t lead anywhere, or closed, stage-like places with floors that produce certain optical illusions for visitors who walk on them. His figures, alone or in groups and slightly smaller than life-size, often smile and have oriental features. They express a sense of estrangement, a solitary silence and an odd kind of communication that directly allude to the contemporary world. The Nature of Visual Illusion contains all of the main characteristics that define Juan Muñoz’s sculptures.

The work consists of a group of human figures who have oriental features and smile in a slightly unsettling way. Three of the figures stand in a semicircle, while a fourth figure is on its own some distance away. The group is positioned in front of a backdrop, and on top of a mirrored floor that reflects the figures. The overall result creates a kind of magic and a strange silence. It invites spectators to interact and makes a direct appeal to them to become part of the ensemble. As in many of Muñoz’s works, the figures are monochromatic, uniformly dark-grey. In spite of their human gesture and smiles, the lack of particularisation and absence of individuality in the figures and the fact that they seem to be looking within themselves rather than at the spectator makes them discomfiting and at the same time universal. Muñoz opts for provocation, creates enigmas and irony, surprise and dialogue. The theatricality and illusionism, the narrative element, the strangeness and the apparent isolation of his figures do not leave the observer indifferent.

Technical details

Original title:
The Nature of Visual Illusion
Registration number:
Muñoz, Juan
Date created:
Date acquired:
On display
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation
Object type:
Acrylic on canvas and polyester resin
Dimensions variable
Meier Building, Level 1, Room 10
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation. Long-term loan of The Estate Juan Muñoz
© Juan Muñoz Estate
It has accessibility resources:

Accessibility resources
Audio description

The MACBA Collection features Catalan, Spanish and international art and, although it includes works from the 1920s onwards, its primary focus is on the period between the 1960s and the present.

For more information on the work or the artist, please consult MACBA's Library. To request a loan of the work, please write to colleccio [at] macba.cat.

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To reconstruct the disorder of a possible city. To use the model, not as an element in a project, but as the representation of something that already exists.
Jordi Colomer