Hyperrealist sculpture with Ron Mueck
Australian-born, London-based Ron Mueck is as enigmatic as his sculptures. From a distended baby, stuck to the wall crucifixion-style and bearing an unnervingly intelligent demeanor far beyond his age, to a smaller-than-life, sick old woman, who curls up in a fetal pose under a blanket, Mueck’s works command an uncanny ability to amaze with obsessive surface detail and intense psychic discharge. Engaging and wildly popular, they expose our need to validate our humanity, even as they thwart our attempts at full disclosure.
Mueck first gained international attention with Dead Man, a naked, half-scale impression of his father shown in “Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection” (1997) at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. With no formal art training, he perfected his skills in the commercial world of special effects, model-making, and animatronics. In 1996, he presciently created for his mother-in-law, well-known British painter Paula Rego, a figure of Pinocchio, the quintessential embodiment of truth and lies. Saatchi saw this sculpture, and smitten, began acquiring Mueck’s work.
Dead Dad (1996–97), silicone, acrylic paint and human hair – a 2/3-life-sized sculpture of Mueck’s father lying on his back, naked. (Stefan T. Edlis Collection, Chicago).
Since then, he has been making silicon or fiberglass and acrylic sculptures cast from clay models. A solo show at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, in 2002, featured the museum’s own Untitled (Big Man). More recently, exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sidney and at the National Gallery in London included work conceived during Mueck’s two-year residency as Associate Artist at the National Gallery. One of the sculptures, Pregnant Woman, an eight-foot-high Ur-mother with arms crossed overhead, feet squarely planted, and a downward glance, was purchased by the National Gallery of Australia, in Canberra, for $461,300, the highest price paid at the time for art by a living Australian.
Pregnant Woman (2002), fibreglass, resin, silicone – 2.5-metres tall sculpture of a naked pregnant woman clasping her hands above her head. (National Gallery of Australia).
To get bogged down in a debate over naturalism, realism, and illusionism when trying to sort out the hows and whys of Mueck’s oeuvre is to miss the point. More interesting is a discussion of his standing in the history of figuration. A certain freshness and sincerity of vision distinguish him from the blasé irony of many of his contemporaries who also explore strategies of realism. Above all, Mueck is a master at orchestrating tensions that both attract and estrange. His figures invite close-up inspection of blemishes, hairs, veins, and expression, taking you on a psycho-topographical journey. If you stare long and deeply enough, you experience a horrific beauty. Yet the very same verisimilitude creates a weird distance that is as equally penetrating of our current existential state.
Big Baby II (1997), polyester resin, fiberglass, silicone, synthetic hair. 85 cm-high model of baby.
If you are curious to see his atelier and techniques of work, you can access to some photographs taken in Ron Mueck’s London studio for his exhibition at the Fondation Cartier in Paris here.
Watch Ron Mueck working:
From 16 April to 29 September 2013 you can visit his exhibition at the Foundation Cartier pour l’art Contemporain.
Credits: All sculptures by Ron Mueck.