Dead at twenty-four in 1870, Isidore Ducasse (the Comte of Lautréamont in almost every circumstance) gave us one of the most often cited remarks in art history: «beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella». Carolina Muñoz’s paintings could correspond to this definition that was so dear to past and present surrealists. Perhaps, it would only be necessary a change in the meeting place. Lautréamont’s table, with its evident allusion to necrophilia, would leave the morgue for a more luminous place, but maybe just as sinister: the art gallery. Because, as she has already shown in her latest works, this young artist has a particular interest in the artistic world and its exhibition spaces, as if there, in the midst of white in all its variations, she could find the best possible scenario for her cultured pop theatre: the chance meeting of Jan Van Eyck and John Krickfalusi in an art gallery.
The characters from her first works have moved into the artistic field, recognizing the territory – which they inhabit temporarily – whenever they are exhibited. To a certain extent, a Mise en abyme of the situation of these paintings, as if the characters had left the stage and wanted to take the place of the spectator. The breaking of the fourth wall in theatrical language. Or the emergence of theatricality that Michael Fried referred to when analyzing the first minimalist works. A relevant reference if we look at the objects the artist chooses for her compositions, as if she was painting the installations that, as she confesses, she would actually want to do. Narratives of the artistic space developed in its own artificial geography.
The problem is not new. Already in the nineteenth century, and even before, there were images dedicated to their own world, where paintings and artistic pieces are enjoyed and traded. There is Watteau’s L’Enseigne de Gersaint (1720), and Daumier’s stamp collectors, almost 140 years later. At different levels, these works raise as a topic both the image of art itself – both as a cultural object and merchandise – as well as the spaces that enable its existence. Art talking about art.
The problem of the observer and the observed, emphatically stated by Velázquez in Las Meninas and followed by Manet’s Un bar aux Folies Bergère, seems to persist here in a particular way. Carolina Muñoz’s characters, who deserve a separate paragraph, take on a familiar place: white walls and narrow corridors with strange objects on the floor. Not at all far from what we perceive at the same moment in the gallery where we are, or any other such place on the planet. But it is clear that here there is no desire for realism, not the conventional kind at least. It is, rather, a dystopia of art or a B movie of the cultural scene. As if George Romero from The Night of the Living Dead had taken up the brushes instead of a film camera and had given us his impressions of all the events generated by the artistic activity: fairs, openings and performances.
The MoMA, the White Cube Gallery and Art Basel, all of them, in one way or another, are tributaries to a common ideology in which presentation techniques, belonging to architecture and theater, are combined with a religious and capitalist mysticism. Art spreads both as faith and merchandise. Sometimes pure faith in its price, sometimes as authentic aesthetic devotion. All due to its disposition as an object of contemplation and consumption. That’s where design and architecture can complete the work’s circle, giving it a second life. If in the old halls paintings where placed one next to the other, in a pictorial overcrowding barely solved by the frames, modern art opted for the autonomy of the artistic work. Each work required “its own square meter.”
Since then, art has had its audience. A contemporary tradition has focused on it, including photographers and painters. From the particular nature of its sociology to the oddities generated by the interaction of people and artworks. Here we can find one of the branches of Carolina Muñoz’s family tree. Her characters roam the space, perhaps actors in a performance, perhaps monsters of contemporary culture, waiting for some novelty or starring in some grotesque incident. Something as uncertain as their own physical condition and their own presence, the cut and paste procedures characterizing Muñoz’s works, have been exacerbated and so her characters suffer the consequences. Realistic faces are violently inserted into bodies that are sometimes made up of colors that only describe their silhouettes. Animation characters complete their attire or arise as undesirable excrescences in their bodies. The Nordic revival of which her anatomies are heirs collides against a pop universe coming from recent animation. This formula takes pop elements to an extreme while also continuing, in an anomalous way, a tradition that seemed to have been interrupted: neo-figurative art.
The attitudes of Carolina Muñoz’s characters are far from natural. Their bodies acquire anomalous positions, like Egon Schiele’s models or the actors in Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari, but filtered by humor from the nineties. As if the expressionist factory from which they seem to come, had been intervened by the Farrelly brothers from Dumb and dumber. The chance meeting of Jim Carrey and Egon Schiele. However, an explanation for this is provided by the artist: everyday life is similar to art, or the other way round. Her characters behave as people do today in front of the camera. Her figures are the children of social networks. The artist goes through images on Instagram and other platforms where different communities, some of them gay, offer their privacy to the public eye. But nothing is that simple. Subjects do not give themselves innocently to the digital gaze. Far from natural, images of parties and spontaneous hangouts are dissolved by ridiculous and theatrical poses, as if the camera’s eye presence made any naturalness impossible and undesirable. This deliberate affectation of the subjects seems to be ruled by the expectations of someone else’s gaze. What it gets is far from being true, but rather the exaggeration of an expectation.
In its intricate game of references and quotations, these works by Carolina Muñoz assert with humor and virtuosity an artistic research that must certainly be taken very seriously.