Juan Muñoz was known for his enigmatic sculptures of strangely haunting human figures. His sculptural installations are like stage sets populated by maudlin characters, implying narratives of conspiracy, despair, and isolation. Despite the often unsettling qualities of his work, Muñoz consistently acknowledged the emotional range of the human condition, from the absurd and irrational to the poignant and humorous. Shown individually and in groups, the figure—inspired by ventriloquist dummies, dwarves, and punching-bag clowns—is a constant presence in his work. Cast in bronze or resin, the sculptures are modeled with an abbreviated naturalism and can appear convincingly real, although they are often shown in impossible positions, such as seated in chairs mounted on a wall or suspended upside down from existing architectural elements.
Since he began exhibiting his work in the late 1980s, the means by which he realized his mise-en-scènes evolved, with small architectural elements appended to exhibition interiors giving way to larger installations that reconfigured and transformed space by cutting through walls or adding false floors. Before his untimely death at the age of forty-eight, Muñoz had been steadily building a body of work that engaged the spectator both physically and emotionally. His works can be interpreted as dramas frozen in time. Shadow and Mouth suggests an unfolding narrative or perhaps depicts the moment just after something—an argument, confrontation, or accusation?—has occurred. Shadow and Mouth is typical of Muñoz's works in its incorporation of familiar elements (here, ordinary furnishings) used as props in vaguely surreal and nonspecific scenes. The seated figures do not face each other, and they also deny the viewer's impulse to engage them, remaining locked in their own self-contained world. This state of isolation and uncertainty is a potent metaphor for the ambiguities and complexity experienced in contemporary life.