Ron Mueck

in bed

Ron Mueck’s current exhibition at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain (April 16th – October 27th) provides an opportunity to look at the Australian artist’s stunning back catalogue.

Considering the time that must go into creating his monumental sculptures the rarity of a Mueck exhibition is unsurprising. However, his ridiculous productivity is! This has made selecting a few key works for this blog post challenging.

Born in Melbourne but based in London, Mueck is a hyperrealist sculptor who came to prominence in 1997 during the Royal Academy’s Sensation exhibition. Mueck’s background is not the traditional art school graduate turned Tate sensation. Rather than follow formal training he served an apprenticeship under Muppets creator Jim Henson. He then worked as a model maker and puppeteer for the cherished children’s film Labyrinth before establishing his own props company in London.

dead dad

Mueck’s trademark is his uncanny ability to produce realistic human sculptures, from the diminutive Dead Dad to the eerie In bed, where a reposing, giant woman contemplates with a vague expression.

The woman looks as though she has just woken; her troubled eyes still full the dream which has woken her. Her disturbed expression heightens the viewer’s own unease; sharing a gallery space with a Mueck sculpture is an unsettling experience; wrinkles, folds of skin, lank hair and blue veins under translucent white skin are executed with startling realism. One almost expects the eyes to blink. Add to that their giantism (or pixie proportions), and you have an intense, unnerving atmosphere.

But meticulous detail and intimidating scale is only a part of Mueck’s brilliance. His real talent as an artist is his ability to tell powerful stories through understated sculptures (as understated as a thrice-the-size-of-an-average-human sculpture can be). Dead Dad may be small in scale but its impact is massive. No detail is spared in Mueck’s from-memory rendering of his deceased father. Though Mueck confessed that he was not close to his father it is evident that great care went into the process of the sculpture as it conveys a sad depth; the stark realisation that every one of us will suffer a similarly lonely end – alone, stretched out, bare to the world. Dead Dad painfully reminds adults that they might not always be around for their children, or even that their offspring will abandon them, and warns children of their parents’ mortality.

Ghost

 

Ghost is another eerily tall sculpture of a girl caught forever on the edge of puberty. Ghost is eight feet of gangly awkwardness and perfectly captures that shadowy hinterland of adolescence. The sheer size of the figure is proportionate to the gauche ‘otherness’ we have all experienced as teenagers.

Wild Man 2005 by Ron Mueck born 1958

Another one of Mueck’s remarkable sculptures (and my personal favourite) is the wonderfully hirsute Wild Man, a frightened figure that provokes sympathetic feelings. The anxious, bushy haired man has a vagrant look and despite his size (3 metres tall) he seems more frightened of us, gripping the stool in terror. The whites of his knuckles are rendered in minute, hyper-real detail and every inch of his body is tense with fear. This contributes to the mystery that surrounds many Mueck sculptures which convey common human emotions – curiosity, fear, anxiety, love – but conceal the motivation behind those feelings, so that the trigger, as is often the case in our own lives, remains perplexing enigmatic.

boy

Boy is another sculpture which shows that Mueck is not about size, but emotion. Though Boy is another enormous sculpture it is the cowering pose of this adolescent that is so intriguing and powerful. He looks afraid, covering his head with protectively. However, it is testimony to Mueck’s subtlety as an artist that as you wander around the front of the sculpture to view it face on, the expression changes. Now the boy transforms from cowering and scared to the impish perpetrator of a school boy prank, crouching with a mischievous grin.

 

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