Exhibition: ‘Oscar Muñoz: Protographies’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 3rd June – 21st September 2014

Curated by José Roca and María Wills Londoño (adjunct curator)



Oscar Muñoz. 'El juego de las probabilidades' [The Game of Probabilities] 2007


Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
El juego de las probabilidades [The Game of Probabilities]
12 colour photographs
47 x 40cm each with frame
Courtesy of the artist and Sicardi Gallery, Houston



Another artist investigating the medium of photography in totally fascinating ways… breaking the glass, deconstructing the support, fragmenting the image, questioning the imprint of photography – in memory, in the photographs physicality, in what leaves an impression, in what remains. The un/stable image, in flux, in sediment, investigated through “work [that] defies systematic classification because he works in so many different media: photography, printmaking, drawing, installations, video and sculpture.” Such inventiveness over such a long period of time “developing special techniques to produce images that reveal themselves as a kind of counterpoint to photography and the “decisive moment” it once claimed to capture.” Ephemeral photography that is truly remarkable.


Many thankx to the Jeu de Paume for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


This summer, the Jeu de Paume, which is celebrating 10 years devoted to the image, will be inviting the public to discover Oscar Muñoz (born in 1951), Colombia’s most emblematic artist, who has been producing a body of work for nearly forty years that centres on the capacity of images to preserve memory.



Oscar Muñoz. 'Ambulatorio' [Ambulatory] 1994


Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Ambulatorio [Ambulatory]
Aerial photograph enclosed in security glass, wood and aluminium, 36 units
100 x 100cm each
Courtesy O.K. Centrum, Linz



Muñoz emerged on the Colombian art scene with his series of large-format hyperrealist drawings in charcoal on paper that revealed his interest in the social implications of empty or deteriorating spaces. This group includes drawings from the series entitled Inquilinatos [Tenement Houses] (1979) and Interiores [Interiors] (1980-1981). Also on display are works referring to Cali’s urban life, such as Ambulatorio [Ambulatory] (1994), El Puente [The Bridge] (2004), Archivo Porcontacto [Bycontact Archive] (2004-2008), which are images of a specific period and specific places in the city, and A través del cristal [Through the Glass] (2008-2009), the latter a way of introducing an absent cultural reference through sound.

Cali recurs in Muñoz’s work as a contextual reference or a support. This is literally the case with Ambulatorio, an aerial photograph of the city blown up to a monumental scale and laid out in a regular grid. Each segment of the photograph is fixed to a piece of security glass, which breaks into pieces when the viewer walks on the work. Each break creates another random mesh of lines over the urban image of a chaotic city in which rational planning and the unstructured coexist in a way typical of all modern South American cities.



Oscar Muñoz. 'Cortinas de Baño' [Shower curtains] 1985-1986


Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Cortinas de Baño [Shower curtains]
Acrylic on plastic, 5 elements
190 x 140 cm and 190 x 70cm each, dimensions variable
Banco de la República collection, Bogotá



Having achieved international renown as an exceptional draughtsman, in the 1980s Muñoz gradually abandoned paper as a support and experimented with new techniques of drawing and printmaking, using unconventional materials and supports such as acrylic applied to damp plastic and charcoal dust on water. This group includes the series Cortinas de Baño [Shower Curtains] (1985-1986), Tiznados [Tainted] (1990), Narcisos secos [Dry Narcissi] (1994-1995) and Simulacros [Simulacra] (1999).

In Cortinas de baño Muñoz experimented for the first time with an unconventional support, in this case an everyday plastic shower curtain, in order to construct an image from a photograph transferred onto a silkscreen mesh. In the printing process, executed with an airbrush through previously prepared silkscreen, the image was transferred onto an unstable surface, with the artist preventing the pigment from being totally fixed by sprinkling water on it.


Oscar Muñoz. 'Narcisos (en proceso)' [Narcissi (in process)] 1995-2011


Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Narcisos (en proceso) [Narcissi (in process)]
Charcoal dust and paper on water, Plexiglas, 6 elements
10 x 50 x 50cm each, overall dimensions: 10 x 70 x 400cm
Courtesy of the artist



Narcisos was a key series in the artist’s quest to dematerialise the support of the photographic image. Muñoz developed a new technique unprecedented in the history of art and probably never to be encountered again – that of printing on water. The earliest photographic images emerged from water, from the chemical baths that fixed the silver salts in different gradations of intensity produced by the action of light. The support was an incidental necessity. Muñoz has referred to the three phases in the process of Narcissi as allegories of an individual’s progress through life: creation, at the moment when the charcoal dust touches the surface of the water; the changes that come about during evaporation; and death, at the moment when the dried out dust finally settles at the bottom of the container. The result, which the artist has called Narcisos secos, is both the final image and the death of the process: the remains of a photograph that possessed a life after it was fixed for posterity. In this sense, Dry Narcissi are the record of a double death of the image.


Oscar Muñoz. 'Narciso' [Narcissus] 2001


Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Narciso [Narcissus]
Single-channel video 4:3, colour, sound, 3 min
Courtesy of the artist



Muñoz’s first work in video was Narciso, in which he dramatically presented the processes developed in his Narcissi of the 1990s (in which the evaporation was invisible to the naked eye) by making the water disappear in a few minutes. As in those earlier works, a self-portrait floats on the surface of the water but the drain in the sink and the sound of running water foretell for the viewer what the image’s final fate will be. In reality, there are two images here: that of the subject and that of its shadow on the white bottom of the basin. The images gradually come closer together, as if to suggest that life is a constant quest for self-understanding. However, at the moment when the two images are about to coincide, it is already too late: they fuse into a single distorted stain that disappears down the drain.


Oscar Muñoz. 'Re/trato' [Portrait/I Try Again] 2004


Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
rato [Portrait/I Try Again]
Single-channel video projection 4:3, colour, no sound, 28 min
Courtesy of the artist



About the exhibition

“Through a multifaceted body of work that moves freely between photography, printmaking, drawing, installation, video and sculpture, eliminating the borderlines between these disciplines through innovative practices, Oscar Muñoz (Popayán, Colombia, 1951) explores the capacity of images to retain memory.

In 1826, for the first time in history the French inventor Nicéphore Niépce succeeded in fixing the elusive image produced by the camera obscura, a device known since antiquity. In contrast to painting or drawing, the camera obscura was able to obtain an image from life without the assistance of the human hand and in real time: what it could not do was freeze it or fix it onto a support in order to extract it from the passing of time. It could thus be said that the essence of the photographic act does not lie in taking the image but in permanently fixing it. What, then, is the status of the image in the instant prior to the moment when it is fixed for posterity?

If the ontology of photography lies in fixing a moving image for all time, extracting it from life, we might say that Oscar Muñoz’s work is located in the temporal space prior (or subsequent) to the true decisive moment when the image is fixed: that proto-moment when the image is finally about to become photography. In that sense, it could be said that Muñoz’s work is protographic.


The exhibition

Born in 1951 in Popayán (Colombia), Oscar Muñoz is regarded as one of the country’s most important contemporary artists, whilst also garnering attention on the international art scene. A graduate of the Escuela de Bellas Artes in Cali, he has built up over a period of four decades a body of work whose images deal with the realm of memory, loss and the precarious nature of human life. Muñoz’s work defies systematic classification because he works in so many different media: photography, printmaking, drawing, installations, video and sculpture.

“Protographs” (a term coined to evoke the instant just before or just after that split-second when the photographic image is captured and frozen for ever) presents his major series grouped by theme. These themes poetically and metaphorically juxtapose Muñoz’s own past and the different material states of the image. For example, he combines the dissolution, deterioration or disintegration of the image with the inherent fragility of memory and the impossibility of making time stand still; or the image’s evaporation and transformation with the tension between rationality and chaos in our urban societies. Finally, in the main part of his work, he creates ephemeral images that, as they disappear, invite the spectator to share in an experience that is simultaneously rational and sensual.

Oscar Muñoz began his career in the 1970s in Cali in a period when a whirlwind of cultural and cross-disciplinary activity saw the emergence of a generation of writers, photographers and filmmakers who today play a leading role in the contemporary art scene (with Carlos Mayolo, Luis Ospina, Fernell Franco and Andrés Caicedo to name but a few). At that time, Muñoz was drawing with charcoal on large-format supports presenting a cast of sad and sometimes sordid characters with a deep emotional charge. The main characteristics of his work emerged at an early stage. These include a profound and tireless interest in social questions, an original approach to materials, the use of photography as an aid to memory and the exploiting of the dramatic possibilities afforded by the play of shadow and light in defining the image. Moreover, the artist developed a phenomenological approach to minimalism by insisting on the relationship between the artwork, the spectator and the surrounding exhibition space.

In the mid-1980s, Oscar Muñoz moved away from traditional artistic methods and began to experiment with innovative processes that created a real interactive exchange with the spectator. This was the time of a radical reassessment of his artistic practices, whether drawing, printmaking, or photography, and a questioning of the relationship between the artwork and its surroundings. He abandoned traditional formats and techniques, whilst preserving something of their roots and wellsprings, to investigate ephemerality, highlighting the very essence of the materials themselves and their poetic associations. His use of the fundamental elements – water, air and fire – refers to the processes, the cycles and the transcendental manifestations of life, our very existence and death itself. “My work attempts to understand why the past and the present are so full of violent acts,” says the artist. By choosing to use a diverse selection of media and to apply innovative and unique processes, Oscar Muñoz blurs the boundaries between artistic disciplines.

The “Protographs” exhibition showcases a career that has lasted nearly forty years. It presents series of works grouped around the artist’s major themes, starting with his works on paper and his series of large format hyperrealist drawings in charcoal (1976-1981) – bearing witness to his deep interest in social context – and the drawings and engravings that he started making in the 1980s, which marked the relinquishing of paper for an exploration of unconventional materials and processes (printing on damp plastic, the use of sugar and coffee, etc.); continuing with his experiments in the 1990s and 2000s on the stability of the image and its relationship to the processes of memory; and including his latest works (2009-2014), characterised by a continual process of appearance and disappearance, including a new work produced specifically for the exhibition.”

Text by José Roca and María Wills Londoño



Over the last decade, Muñoz has created a series of works on the indicative relationship between the object and its image, making use of contact printing, a characteristic printmaking process. This was the case with La mirada del Cíclope [The Cyclops’ Gaze] (2001-2002), Intervalos (mientras respiro) [Intervals (While I Breathe)] (2004) and Paístiempo [Countrytime] (2007), as well as series from a number of other periods.


Oscar Muñoz. 'Aliento' [Breath] 1995


Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Aliento [Breath]

Metal mirrors, screen-printed with grease, 7 mirrors
Diameter: 20 cm each
Courtesy of the artist



The series Aliento comprises portraits printed in photo-silkscreen with grease on small round metal mirrors located at eye level. The mirrors initially seem blank and the printed image only reveals itself when the viewer, having recognised himself / herself, breathes onto the circular mirror. During this brief moment the reflected image is replaced by the printed image (photographs taken from obituaries) of a deceased person who fleetingly returns through the viewer’s breath.


Oscar Muñoz. 'La mirada del cíclope' [The Cyclops' Gaze] 2002


Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
La mirada del cíclope [The Cyclops’ Gaze]
Digital print on paper, 6 photographs
50 x 50 cm each one
Courtesy of the artist



La mirada del cíclope, in which the subject is considered in relation to death, uses one of the oldest techniques of portraiture and printmaking: a mould made by direct contact, in this case of the artist’s own face. This sculptural object (inspired by the ancient Roman tradition of funerary masks) becomes two-dimensional when it is captured by the camera’s single eye (hence the title). Lacking references to volume, the viewer’s eye cannot decide if the object represented is concave or convex, in a play of perceptual opposites: negative / positive, presence / absence, reality or illusions. Quoting Pierre Bourdieu, Muñoz has noted that “the imagines of ancient Rome are exactly equivalent to the social nature of some modern photographs; they play an important role in the tortuous act of mourning: we accept a reality by ‘becoming accustomed to the unreality of its images’.”


Oscar Muñoz. 'Horizonte [Horizon]' 2011


Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Horizonte [Horizon]
From the series Impresiones débiles [Weak Impressions]
Charcoal dust print on methacrylate
4 elements, 85 x 73.5cm each
Galerie mor. charpentier, Paris



The earliest successful images taken by Niépce were proto-photographs that did not survive intact as images because the light that had created them continued to affect them until they eventually succumbed to darkness in an inexorable fade to black. This is what happens in film photography when a photograph is not properly rinsed and the developing agent continues to act, or when the photographic paper is directly exposed to the action of light. However, the image can also move towards clarity. In Impresiones débiles, Muñoz employs photographs of great historical and political significance for Colombia and subjects them to a process that makes them seem like “washed out” photos in which over-exposure to light has made the image deteriorate to the point of near invisibility. The works that make up this series are in fact prints rather than photographs, given that they are silkscreens made with charcoal dust on acrylic. The variable distance between the silkscreen mesh and the support allows the artist to single out a different element from the original photograph in each print, making it more highly defined than the rest. The “variable focus” in this series questions another of the supposedly essential characteristics of photography, namely the camera’s systematic, technical objectivity in relation to its subjects.



In his most recent works, Muñoz depicts images in a process of continual appearance and disappearance. These are subtle impressions with varying emphases on the different parts of the image that are literally in flux and cannot be fixed, such as those produced by a camera obscura. This section includes the video Cíclope [Cyclops] (2011), the installation Editor solitario [Solitary Editor] and the work Sedimentaciones [Sedimentations] (2011), the latter comprising three tables with projections of documents that are constantly created and destroyed. The exhibition ends with the highly personal Fundido al blanco [Fade to White] (2010).


Oscar Muñoz. 'Fundido a blanco (dos retratos)' [Fade to White (Two Portraits)] 2010


Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Fundido a blanco (dos retratos) [Fade to White (Two Portraits)]
HD Video, colour, sound, 7 min 40 s
Courtesy of the artist



Fundido a blanco (dos retratos) is an autobiographical work: a family portrait with Muñoz behind the camera, constituting the third side of a temporal triangle that includes his mother and father. It is, in other words, a memorial. Rather than making their features more clear, the strong light that bathes the scene makes them imprecise and ethereal. Muñoz has referred to the intense light in Cali at a certain time of day, when people seem to “disintegrate”, and also to the blinding brilliance of the sun when the artist came out after seeing a film at the city’s film club. The central figure in Fundido a blanco momentarily falls asleep now and then, entering into the light. Rather than fixing that figure at a precise moment of its existence, in the manner of a photographic portrait or snapshot, Muñoz creates a portrait that develops in time. Fundido a blanco is one of the artist’s most moving works, an image that touches the viewer. Its power may perhaps lie in the fact that for the first time in his extensive output, we are here seeing a specific subject rather than the generic representation of one.


Oscar Muñoz. 'Sedimentaciones' [Sedimentations] 2011


Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Sedimentaciones [Sedimentations]
2 HD video projections, colour, sound, 42 min 27 s, 41 min 42 s, on wooden tables
Courtesy of the artist



The strategy of dissolving the image reappears in Sedimentaciones, a photographic development table on which there are numerous photographs arranged in lines, with various blank sheets between them. The photos are extremely varied in nature, ranging from universally known images to others that are very specific to a Colombian context, personal portraits by the artist and anonymous, generic images. There are two developing trays at opposite corners. A hand takes a photograph from the table and puts it in a plastic tray filled with liquid in which the image dissolves. The paper emerges white and is then randomly placed in one of the lines. On the other side of the table another hand takes up one of the empty sheets and slides it into another tray. On taking out the sheet, the image has magically re-formed on it and the hand places it in the line of photographs. The process starts again in the other corner. Through this alternation we thus witness the ceaseless life and death of the image (see video below).



Oscar Muñoz. 'Línea del destino' [Line of Destiny] 2006

Oscar Muñoz. 'Línea del destino' [Line of Destiny] 2006

Oscar Muñoz. 'Línea del destino' [Line of Destiny] 2006


Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Línea del destino [Line of Destiny]
Single-channel video 4:3, black and white, no sound,
1 min 54 s
Courtesy of the artist


Oscar Muñoz. 'Pixeles' [Pixels] 1999-2000


Oscar Muñoz (Colombian, b. 1951)
Pixeles [Pixels]
Coffee stains on sugar cubes, Plexiglas
9 panels 35 x 35 x 3cm each
Courtesy of the artist and Sicardi Gallery, Houston


OSCAR MUÑOZ: “Protographs” in progress from Jeu de Paume / magazine on Vimeo.



The magazine’s camera has gone behind the scenes of Oscar Muñoz’ exhibition Protographs at the Jeu de Paume. It attempts to show how the artist and his assistant, Juliana Guevara, produce unstable images, using unconventional materials and supports such as water, charcoal dust, grease on metal, the spectator’s breath, and shower curtains. Since the early 80s, Muñoz has been developing special techniques to produce images that reveal themselves as a kind of counterpoint to photography and the “decisive moment” it once claimed to capture.

Narcissi (1995), Breath (1995), Simulacra (1999), The Collector (2014): all these works question the fragile status of images and the way they live - and die – in our memory.



Jeu de Paume
1, Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
métro Concorde
Phone: 01 47 03 12 50

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday: 11.00am – 7.00pm
Closed Monday

Jeu de Paume website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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