Ron Mueck (b 1958) is a hyperrealist sculptor, who your mum has probably heard of. The painstakingly exquisite sculptures of naked humans in awkward poses are some of the most striking and symbolic pieces of contemporary art to emerge from Saatchi’s influential Sensation show. His piece Dead Dad (1996) made him a household name, and he went on to have his monumental piece Boy featured as part of the Millennium Dome.
Mueck’s work is striking partly due to the scale, and his work is ostentatiously all about size. You find yourself using fractions and scale to describe things in ways you never would normally. And this is exacerbated to great effect by the other striking feature of his work, the realism. The fleshy hues and individual hairs on his ½, 2x and even 10x human bodies are honest and masterly representations of physical and social forms.
Wild Man (2005), is easily the most impressive of the three pieces on display. A bearded and scraggly haired man is blown up to 3x times normal size and is perched, uneasily on a stool, his body tensed and a worried expression on his face. His eyes fixed on something, if you stand in the right place, just behind you. The tension in his body, his nakedness and the title of the piece creates an air of apprehension. His oversized and ungainly body makes the embarrassment and sense of being scrutinized he must be feeling evident in quite a comic way. The comparisons to Gulliver’s Travels are easy and lazy, so I’m going to make them. It also makes our role in assigning judgement to his situation transparent. By diminishing us physically this serves to diminish us morally too.
As Mueck’s work is about the body, about our unconscious movements and intimate moments, it is very easy for almost anyone to relate to. This a strength of the work, and allows for the scale to instantly transport the viewer to exactly where he wants them to be. There is no confusion, when you stand in front of Mask III (2005), you’re instantly thrown back into childhood, to looking up at the warm and kindly face of this black matriarch. Even if, like me, you never knew a kindly black woman as a child and never had this happen to you “for real”, Mueck can still put you back into that moment, whether it’s one from his past of one from your own. Except this moment is frozen, and you’ve got forever to ponder the enigmatic quirks of the soft expression on her giant face. The title suggests that this is one of many personas the artist as a person must take on, so while this may or may not relate to an actual event, Mueck acknowledges that at times he must be the embodiment of motherly warmth. Either way, we experience what he wants us to.
The smallest, and my favourite, is Spooning Couple (2005). In this piece, a miniature couple lie together, but apart. Their bodies “spooning” as if in bed together. You approach them in the same way you marvel at the detail in a newborn baby; their tiny toes and fingers, their hair, their eyebrows, all perfect. Yet their pose suggests something not quite right. They are comfortable enough to lie together semi-naked, but they do not face each other, their tired expressions show them lost in their own thoughts, and makes it clear that we a looking at a delicate and intimate moment. We become unwilling voyeurs, forced to evaluate our own relationships in light of this new perspective on the couple. We have to look down on them, making our emotions and feelings for one another feel childish and inconsequential. In the same way we know a baby will grow up to learn to control it’s impulses and relate to those around it, we feel that of our foetal couple. I felt a pang of guilt about the relationships in my own life, yet was hopeful for them and myself afterward.
These tiny, yet intimate moments which are easily forgotten, puts me in mind of the hit American sitcom Seinfeld. Ostentatiously a show about nothing, it drew attention to the small, everyday moments that made up our lives. This made it, conversely, a show about everything. In the very same way Mueck’s work does this, changing our relationship to a particular moment through his use of scale.
The three pieces in this show are all excellent examples of his work, and the video on show in the room next door gives an insight into the work that makes one of these sculptures (and shows you how each hair is individually sewn into the latex). Mueck is obviously a master of his craft, and a brilliant and exciting one at that.
This is an excellent, though small, exhibition, which I’d recommend going to see at least twice. Go on your own and with your friends (if you have any).
At Manchester Art gallery until Sunday 11th April 2010