Installation view, Jaime Muñoz, Machina, 2023. François Ghebaly, New York
François Ghebaly is proud to present Machina, Jaime Muñoz’s first solo exhibition with the gallery at its New York location.
In April of 2023, to the disquietude of many city-dwellers, the NYPD announced its reintroduction of American robotics manufacturer Boston Dynamics’ “canine” robot to the fleet. The four-legged robot, with its retractable proboscis-like armature, uncanny gait, and unmistakable “A-08” designation, features centrally in Los Angeles-based artist Jaime Muñoz’s work Diagram drawing #7 (2023), part of his newest exhibition entitled Machina. Drawn in inky grisaille, and against a background depicting the gauntlet of an armored figure, the robot and its constituent image appear at once hyper-mechanical and primal. Muñoz adapts the gauntlet from J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional “Nazgûl,” a cadre of powerful knights who were corrupted by the mind-bending influence of “the Ring.” In this light, Muñoz’s robot, like many others in Machina, becomes a steely foreboding of power, surveillance, and the futures of technologization.
Do not let the sumptuous velvet flocking and dreamlike, sunset palettes of Muñoz’s larger paintings fool you––the printmaker, draftsman, and painter has long aimed his practice’s iconographic focus at the nexus of mechanization and American labor. Muñoz’s images operate in a patchwork fashion, drawing throughlines between the unmistakable visual vocabulary of Southern California life (think vibrant ombrés, polychrome signage, and West Coast automobilia) and the iconographies of popular culture and labor history. The latter ranges in Muñoz’s work from antiquity and the American industrial revolution, to pickup trucks and other ubiquitous tools of modern industry, to 20th century labor revolutions and parables in contemporary fantasy and science fiction. For Machina, Muñoz examines a new, daunting chapter in this distinctly American history: the realm of hyper-surveillance, advanced robotics, and artificial intelligence.
Between touchstones like James Cameron’s Terminator franchise, or the 1980’s union takeover of Mexican soda brand “Boing,” Muñoz finds a key subject in Karel Čapek’s 1920 Czech-language play R.U.R., or “Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti” (Rossum’s Universal Robots). The play follows a class of laborer-robots whose artificial intelligence advances such that they revolt against their human masters, a conspicuous metaphor for the awakened class consciousness and revolution of the proletariat. In the essay “Why Do Robots Rebel?: The Labor History,” Tobias Higbie likens Čapek’s robot to concepts such as Donna Haraway’s ‘cyborg’:
Čapek offered the Robots, their rebellion, and happy ending as a way to think through the modern dilemma. As its image shifted from nearly human to mostly machine, the Robot lost a lot of its interpretive potential. By recovering [Čapek’s] earlier, murkier meaning of the Robot we can see the centrality of working people, real and imagined, to the cultural life of modernity.
For Muñoz, too, his robots become complicated, “murky” figures. At different times they’re the fearsome antagonists of the state, the mechanized interlocutors of industry, or shrewd metaphors for the laborer himself and the material realities of organizing. In this vein, Muñoz’s work acts as a sort of equalizer, between the domains of high-speculative fiction and unflinching social realism, all the while operating in the hazy in-between space of so-called “real life.” What will ultimately occur there is perhaps the exhibition’s tallest gesture: in When Do Robots Rebel? (2023), Muñoz finely prints the titular phrase along the vein-like contours of the Terminator’s hydraulic tubing. Whether human or machine, it’s an imperative latent in each and every one of Machina’s brave new worlds.
Jaime Muñoz (b. 1987, Los Angeles, CA) lives and works in Pomona, CA and received his BFA from the University of California Los Angeles in 2016. Recent solo exhibitions include François Ghebaly, New York (2023); and The Pit, Los Angeles (2022). His work was included in group presentations at the Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach, CA (2022); Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, KS (2021); Southampton Arts Center, Southampton, NY (2021); Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles (2021, 2019); The Pit, Los Angeles (2021, 2019); Maki Gallery, Tokyo, Japan (2020); Riverside Art Museum, Riverside, CA (2018); MAK Center for the Arts, Los Angeles (2017) and the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna, Austria (2017). Machina is Muñoz’s first solo exhibition with the gallery.
by Rubén Ortiz-Torres
Painting in the United States does not have the long history that it has in Europe or even in places like Mexico or Peru. For the most part it has been a modern experience and then postmodern. It has either rejected any references or they have come from sources not considered "artistic." This has even been more extreme in places like California where visual culture comes from movies, signs, advertisements, cars, cartoons, tags, etc. and where there is less access or attention to major collections of historical painting. Artists like Lari Pittman or Ed Ruscha bypass oil painting's impastos, underpaints, and glazings for acrylic's often bright colored flat signs and designs. They substitute free stroke brushing for hard edged stencils, rollers, and air brushes.
Jaime Muñoz worked for Chris Burden and Nancy Rubbins and then studied with Pittman at UCLA. His work produced in the suburbs east of Los Angeles comes from its visual world; signs and cars of California combining and emphasizing colors, patterns and iconography of Mexican handcrafts reminding us of sarapes from Saltillo, "pita" embroidery on leather from Jalisco made with agave thread, as well as popular culture like stickers common in buses and trucks, etc. I could say "Mexican-American," but this is an absurd redundance because Mexico is part of the Americas and this is an intrinsic part of Californian culture.
His work is really American; understanding America not as it is currently stated where the indigenous is perceived as alien and the European claims to be native, but as the hybrid, complex, and exuberant continent that it is.
In previous work he has associated and contrasted related iconography such as horses and pick up trucks that evoke different times, regions, and economies that somehow coexist. In his new body of work, he is making references and making connections between labor and its mechanization. His current pieces refer to the early science fiction of Karel Čapek who introduce dthe word "robot" in his play R.U.R. (Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti [Rossum's Universal Robots]) to more recent Hollywood versions such as Terminator, to the subversion of Disney iconography by Mexican workers owners of the Pascual cooperative who made Donald Duck into a symbol of labor. His paintings encode iconographic layers of meaning for whoever wishes to break the code and decipher clues about the complexities of the automatization of labor and the substitution of humankind. It also has other layers of meaning in their ornamentation, arrangement, color, and texture.
The reports of painting's death are greatly exaggerated. It has been the strategy of some artists of color to attempt to insert themselves and groups of people into the Western cannon that has until now excluded them using anachronic painting styles. We see versions of some kind of urban new expressionism, romanticism, and even neoclassicism where the subjects are conspicuous in their skin color and fashionable sneakers. Muñoz is doing something else; he is attempting to do something unique. In some sense it might be beyond painting. Perhaps it is a kind of new seductive codex, design or craft that reveals a future with different pasts.
Dreaming is influenced by the consolidation of memory* and the American one is certainly not an exception.
*Wamsley E. J. (2014). Dreaming and offline memory consolidation. Current neurology and neuroscience reports, 14(3), 433. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11910-013-0433-5