Ron Mueck, Hauser & Wirth | Visual arts reviews, news & interviews
Ron Mueck, Hauser & Wirth
The model-maker with magic in his fingers
Yesterday I fell in love with a black boy less than half my age and half my size – or, rather, a sculpture of a black boy. At just over two feet tall, Ron Mueck’s Youth is utterly beguiling. His silken skin, slender fingers, low-slung jeans and paisley patterned underpants are seductive enough; what made me lose my head, though, was the suggestion of dirt under his neatly clipped toenails. This beautifully observed detail made me want to kiss his exquisitely modelled feet.
Mueck’s hyper-real sculptures have the same presence as Madame Tussaud’s waxworks; this is scarcely surprising since he started out as a puppeteer and model-maker for Australian television. When they are good, though, his sculptures are infinitely more engaging than mere models.
The amount of attention lavished on fine detail doesn’t just make his figures plausible, it breathes vitality into them – as though his tenderness confers life on them. Scale is also a determining factor, of course. An encounter with a life-sized boy would be too close to normal experience to be really arresting.
The boy lifts his blood-stained T-shirt to reveal a stab wound. Suddenly one recognises the gesture from paintings of the risen Christ showing the wound in his side to Thomas, the disciple who doubted his identity. The comparison is understated, though; Mueck is not making claims on behalf of his boy so much as opening doors in the viewer’s mind.
Wander into the next room and you see a man in floral trunks wearing shades, a gold medallion and a waterproof watch floating on a green lilo (Drift pictured above). Instead of drifting across a hotel pool or an expanse of sea, though, he is levitating up a sea-green wall. With his outstretched arms, suddenly this diminutive figure looks less like a bather than the crucified Christ, and the airbed becomes a mandorla.
Yet this middle-aged man lacks the appropriate serenity; one gets the distinct impression that, behind his sunglasses, he is glancing around nervously. And judging by his trim physique, far from being ready to shrug off this mortal coil, he looks keen to prolong life by maintaining good health and a youthful appearance.
Mueck doesn’t shove the message about mortality down one’s throat, but allows it to float in the ether alongside the sunbather. The same cannot be said for Woman with Sticks (pictured above right), a naked female struggling beneath an armload of firewood. Whereas the man and boy are recognisable characters from everyday life, this stocky matron seems like a denizen from the realm of myth or fairy tale. Rather than sparking one’s imagination, her presence feels prescriptive – directing one’s thoughts like an illustration towards a pre-existing narrative.
Sharing the room with her is a giant chicken (Still LIfe pictured left) plucked, eviscerated and hung upside down by its feet. Its huge scale invites comparison with the human body, but this corpse is more comic than poignant – a grotesque inviting mockery, rather than a victim arousing sympathy.
When Mueck hammers his message home, the figures become banal – models striving for profundity and failing; but when he allows the sculptures to wear their wisdom lightly, they become meaningful as well as profoundly magical.
- Ron Mueck at Hauser & Wirth, 23 Savile Row, until 26 May
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
more Visual arts
The artist talks about his ambitious new work and tells us why he could never belong to a political party
A survey of the influential French filmmaker proves a difficult introduction to his work
In a beautiful and cultured city, 20th-century music and art shine (Glass excepted)
A shortlist harking back to pre-digital image-making, and with one clear winner
An irrepressible joy touched by pathos in the French modernist's late works
Two women who were associated with the Viennese Actionists and who should be better known
An artist who astonished with the visceral intensity of his paintings, but who came to see himself as an outsider
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top exhibitions
An exhibition of painting that has no set agenda, no dogma, and is full of bold gestures
A joyous celebration of ad hoc creativity fills the Duveen Galleries
A ham-fisted attempt to summon up memories of the Holocaust by the Polish artist
Contemporary artists respond to the idea of the monument in remembrance of two world wars