The Van Abbemuseum Collection consists of over 2800 artworks. We publish texts and images on an ongoing basis, but this record is currently in the process of being documented.
'Listening Figure' by the Spanish artist Juan Muñoz is a rocking bronze figure which places its ear against the wall to listen. The figure behaves like a person although you can see immediately that it is not an “ordinary” person. He is slightly smaller, and his legs have been replaced by a hemisphere. The sculpture is often combined with the work 'Balcony', a small iron balcony that is attached to the same wall slightly higher up.
Munoz usually makes works which consist of different elements in which the space around and between those elements plays an important role. Initially, Munoz often paints the floor of the gallery in which he places his objects, so that this becomes part of the work. In 'Listening Figure with Balcony' the wall serves the same sort of function, although it has not been painted. Through the wall, the whole exhibition space is involved in the work. When the visitor enters that space, he becomes part of it to some extent. However, at the same time he remains at a distance, not literally but metaphorically. Munoz’s figures do not actually communicate with the viewer; they are engrossed in their own affairs. Muñoz’s figures seem to record a moment in a particular event.
The viewer does not know exactly what has happened or what is going to happen, but it is clear that there is something going on. Muñoz aims to bring about a feeling of tension and uncertainty in the viewer, presenting him with a recognizable, but not quite realistic scene. He plays around with the concepts of presence and absence, proximity and distance. The figure that is physically present in 'Listening Figure' does not face the viewer. Someone could appear on the empty balcony. The visitor is present at the scene, but cannot participate in which is happening, he can only guess at it. In this way, Muñoz gives the viewer the opportunity to interpret the work in his own way.
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