Juan Muñoz was known for his enigmatic sculptures of strangely haunting human figures. His 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 or in groups, cast in bronze or resin, his figures—inspired by ventriloquist dummies, dwarves, and punching-bag clowns—are modeled with an abbreviated naturalism and can appear convincingly real, although they often assume impossible positions, such as seated in chairs mounted on the wall or suspended upside down. The means by which Muñoz realized his mise-en-scènes evolved over time, with the small architectural elements appended to exhibition interiors of the late 1980s giving way to larger installations that reconfigure and transform space by cutting through walls or adding false floors.
Before his untimely death at the age of 48, Muñoz had been steadily building a body of work that engages 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 the moment immediately after something—an argument, confrontation, or accusation?—has occurred. In its incorporation of familiar elements (here, ordinary furnishings) used as props in a vaguely surreal and nonspecific scene, Shadow and Mouth is typical of Muñoz's oeuvre. 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.