Day 15: Leah Cim in Ogling Ron Mueck’s Sculptures

Where to look when a naked man lies on the floor? Where not to look?

Ron Mueck Born Australia 1958 - Dead Dad 1996–97 (detail) silicone, polyurethane, styrene, synthetic hair, ed. 1/1 20.0 x 38.0 x 102.0 cm Stefan T. Edlis Collection, Chicago © Ron Mueck courtesy Anthony d’Offay, London Photo : Michael Tropea

Flat on his back, his head points toward the entrance, so the approaching, fully-clothed, onlookers arrive from above. Look at his grey hair, flowing backwards under gravity’s direction, a hint of nose, and bare, pale grey shoulders.

But how close to look? The man is not only naked, but clearly devoid of life.

Every part of the body, each fiber of hair, acquiesces to the gentle pull of the earth. The hands, slightly curled and betraying the muscle memory passed down since men were monkeys, are open and offer no resistance to fate. The penis has flopped to the side, never to be used again, the nudity perhaps showing there is no shame in this lifeless state. The stomach seems the most vulnerable part, and examining it from above feels more invasive, weirdly.

Here lies the perverse beauty of Ron Mueck’s art. The National Gallery of Victoria is exhibiting his work, promoting the show with billboards and posters, and after paying, entering and seeing the first sculpture, the natural instinct is to look away. Because of Dead Dad’s beauty and careful execution, even though he is a miniature construction of silicone and polyurethane the desire is to preserve the dead man’s dignity.

That thought assumes nudity is undignified, perhaps even that death is shameful. Mueck challenges those thoughts, but we look down on the body, placed on a slightly raised platform. The crowd stands in judgment.

Recoiling from death may be natural for someone young, but after pivoting to head to the next room, a greater shock awaits.

Ron Mueck Born Australia 1958 - A girl 2006 polyester resin, fibreglass, silicone, synthetic hair, synthetic polymer paint, second edition, artist’s proof 110.0 x 501.0 x 134.5 cm Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh Purchased with assistance from The Art Fund, 2007 © Ron Mueck courtesy Anthony d’Offay, London Photo: Antonia Reeve

Writhing with life, A Girl is a confronting portrait of a newborn, complete with tortured expression, flecks of blood and other fluids that are clearly visible from a distance. Her head is also pointed towards the entrance, but in this case she is facing us, and the fact part of her umbilical cord is attached is not instantly noticeable. She seems about to take her first scream.

Just as Dead Dad’s diminutive form is briefly unsettling as the mind adjusts, so too is A Girl’s enormity, stretching all of 501 centimetres from her sticky hair to wrinkled feet. Her volume, as though inflated by the promise of a life yet to be lived, is in the order of 100 times that of Mueck’s father figure.

Ron Mueck Born Australia 1958 - Wild man 2005 polyester resin, fibreglass, silicone, aluminium, wood, horse hair, synthetic hair, ed. 1/1 285.0 x 162.0 x 108.0 cm McClelland Gallery + Sculpture Park, Langwarrin Purchased by the Elisabeth Murdoch Sculpture Foundation and The Balnaves Foundation, 2008 © Ron Mueck courtesy Anthony d’Offay, London Photo Mark Ashkanasy

That surprise is nothing compared to the mystified and frightened expression writ large on Wild Man, the oversized, hairy figure sitting stiffly on a stool. And his back, arms and shoulders are stiff, rather than anything else.

The pimples and spots on his back invite close scrutiny, again the reflex is to avert the eyes from his penis.

Any discomfort about his nudity quickly passes. He is clearly terrified of us.

The eyes give the fear away most, and they are the most engaging part of the figure, giving the piece a focus. The same can be said for Two Women, small and clothed old ladies who have vulture-like features and because of their placement in the gallery are staring at Wild Man’s lap with suspicion.

Of the four new figures in the show, Woman with Sticks (2008) is the first. There is something joyous in her back-bending, painful task of lugging the sticks around.

One of the sticks is tangled in her hair. Others got tangled in mine while looking at it although it’s perhaps not best to admit such interference with work by an internationally-acclaimed artist.

Inadvertent stick tangles aside, the temptation is strong to touch many of the statues. To stroke the hair, or is it fur, on Wild Man, to bathe the baby, bury the old man, scoop up the fragile Old Woman in Bed. Maybe even to baste the six-foot chicken, Still Life, and put it in an oven.

The chicken, like all the work, is a statement about the human condition. What, exactly, will be up to the viewer to figure out.

Youth, a boy with Barack Obama-like features with a stab wound, could be interpreted as a fresh-faced political force suffering the cuts and bruises of inexperience. Or, as someone else thought, it could reflect Jesus’ wounds on the cross.

Size does not matter after moments, they are so real.

Reach out and touch. Go on. I dare you. Nobody will notice.

Resist this temptation, but be prepared to be touched.

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Comments
4 Responses to “Day 15: Leah Cim in Ogling Ron Mueck’s Sculptures”
  1. Hi Bytta, sounds like an interesting exhibit. Any pictures to share with us, or were there no pictures allowed? How about a link to the museum’s webpages on the links? Thanks!

    • Bytta says:

      Hi David,
      I do have some high quality photos I might be able to upload. This is my first day of logging online since last Friday 🙂 I thought I couldn’t, but I’ve actually been enjoying my holiday without perpetual facebook checking.
      The museum webpage is this: http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/ronmueck/ but I will upload more photos.
      Cheers.

      • That is just too gruesome! You two would probably enjoy the Mutter Museum of medical oddities in Philadelphia Pennsylvania (it’s pronounced “my00ter”, I’m just too lazy to do the umlauts). All kinds of weird stuff like this there.

      • Bytta says:

        AWESOME!! This looks like a cool and legitimate weird show. My husband appreciates art in every form. Me? I like the weird and unusual ones like Salvador Dali and anything in Guggenheim Museums. I dream about visiting Dali’s museum in Figueres, Spain and Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain and New York. If we visit the East Coast, I’ll make a point to visit the Mutter Museum as well.

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