Art In South Shields, Tyne And Wear
A sculpture comprising 22 bronze figures by Juan Muñoz near South Shields beach.
'Conversation Piece' is a sculpture that was created by the renowned Spanish artist Juan Muñoz in 1999. It comprises 22 bronze figures positioned around an open space in the dunes at Littlehaven, South Shields, each approximately 1.5 metres high and around a quarter of a ton in weight. Their position at the entrance to the River Tyne welcomes visitors from both the land and sea beyond.
The figures are arranged in small groups, with occasional isolated ones, seemingly engaging in conversation with one another. The artwork was originally imagined as being a visual play on the 18th Century style of painting that depicted informal social gatherings, cards games or musical performances. The figures area all monochromatic greys in colour, which may have something to do with Muñoz being colour-blind, but we at Fabulous North think it just adds to the otherworldliness of the piece.
The figures are known affectionately by locals as the 'Weebles' after the toys of the 70s and 80s, though given their weight and robust fixing into the ground, it is no surprise these Weebles neither wobble nor fall down! The artist once said of them “they look like rolling figures, like tumblers, they are about movement but they can't move”.
The sculptor was quite an outspoken artist in his home country of Spain, often criticising cultural institutions, so was never a well-loved figure of the establishment, so it is little wonder that such an outsider should have work that found a home, hundreds of miles from Spain in South Shields.
At South Shields, the figures stand, eyes closed or staring towards the distant horizon, in a strange, eerie silence, which is strange as the sculptor had often expressed an interest in sound and in particular radio. It is fitting perhaps that there is now an app which can be used to listen in to their conversations, written by Lee Mattinson and commissioned by Northern Stage as part of their “Out on the Toon” project. There was a QR code you could scan nearby when we visited to hear the conversations.
Sadly Muñoz died suddenly in 2001 aged only 48 years old, but his work will hopefully find a place in South Shields for many years to come.
“The way people react to the piece and the way they pass between them is very important” - Juan Muñoz (1953 - 2001)
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Head out of the northern end of the car park towards the beach and the sculpture can be found around 50m away.
Contributed by Andrew Gardner
I love being outdoors, in nature, and experiencing the relaxation it brings. Wandering through the northern countryside seeing unexpected buildings, historic places and occasionally surprised wildlife is one of life's great pleasures.
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