Down the rabbit hole at Ron Mueck exhibition?

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?

Read up on Ron Mueck on the CCL website and then go see the show at the Art Gallery! The exhibition opens 2 October.

5 thoughts on “Down the rabbit hole at Ron Mueck exhibition?

  1. robyn stewart 3 October 2010 / 10:29 am

    Are untrained people allowed to comment? Should I say I might not know much about art but I know what I like? Oh alright then. I like them. After an attempt some years ago to see the pregnant woman in Canberra (they were very nice but she wasn’t on show and an appointment was required – I wish I could have seen where they had her stowed)I’m thrilled to see her at last and she doesn’t disappoint. Nor do the others.

    • bronnypop 3 October 2010 / 2:16 pm

      Right there with you, Robyn. I went with trepidation,(being one who is in no way properly arty, and expecting any minute to be outed as a fraud and pretender – witness my last attempt at infiltrating the art world), and left incredibly moved and vowing to bring the whole family back. The technical skill is breathtaking, but the emotional impact is also very real, and possibly even more so for those of us who have no idea of the mechanics of such art.

  2. Michael A 4 October 2010 / 7:47 am

    I now understand why he is quite happy for people to take photographs of his work. In 2D the images are amazing and pique interest but, despite having viewed the images repeatedly for nearly 2 years, nothing prepared me for the emotional impact of the art “in the flesh” so to speak. A multi-trip must see.

    • Donna 4 October 2010 / 8:37 am

      I agree, the photos can only hint at what you’ll see, and can’t convey the way the sculptures interact with each other as well as the audience. Those old ladies look like they’re having a conversation about the Woman in bed (“Would you look at her, lounging about in bed …”).

      I’ll be going back too, might even need one of those season passes.

  3. Rebecca 4 October 2010 / 3:46 pm

    I agree

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