I didn’t find a mysterious bottle labeled, “Drink Me” to make me extraordinarily small (that’s me pictured next to Ron Mueck’s sculpture, In Bed). Nor did I eat any cake that made me grow to great heights (see picture below). I attended the sneak peek of Ron Mueck’s exhibition at the Christchurch Art Gallery. Wow!
Many people initially respond to Mueck’s works with: how lifelike! That has to be the first reaction. The lifelikeness smacks you in the face. The skin is so real you would expect it to be warm and supple to touch. But it’s not. It’s hard and room temperature. (I didn’t touch the artwork! A small resin sample is available to provide this tactile experience.) Pimples, goose-flesh, veins, folds in the hands and feet… It’s all there. The ability to so absolutely render the human form is a tremendous skill, a skill Mueck refined in his past life as creator of photo-realistic props and animatronics. His craftsmanship is impeccable.
But how does a work of extraordinary craftsmanship transcend craftmanship to become “art?”
Mueck accomplishes this in at least two ways. Scale and pathos. An exhausted and very Pregnant Woman (2002) towering at 8 feet is not so large that people cannot empathize with her burden. Her exaggerated size suggests the weight she bears — a tribute to motherhood.
Old Woman in Bed (2000) appears nearly bereft of life and is a diminutive 1/2 size — the size of a child. She is curled into a white blanket, inverting in her old age. As viewers we are forced to look down on her form, (she is displayed below eye level) eliciting a kind of empathy. In fact, staff at the gallery have commented that many people want to reach out and console the dying old woman.
The exhibition was sparse, each sculpture given enough space to define its own scale world. For example, In Bed (2005, pictured above) is supersized yet has been situated in an even more massive gallery. The male figure in Man in Boat (2002, pictured left) is 1/3 scale, but the sculpture as a whole juxtaposes the lifesize and miniscule. The rowing boat is 4 metres long.
Thirteen sculptures make up this Ron Mueck exhibition. I overheard one of the curators comment, “We like to think there are fourteen sculptures in this exhibition. The fourteenth is your journey through the space.”
Nice thought, eh?