Ron Mueck: In the Flesh in Paris
Realism is a subject of hot debate in the art world. Critics of the genre claim that when art brushes too close to reality there is no added value and that one may as well enjoy the subject of the work instead. Yet there is no denying that the skilful discipline of reproducing life itself can induce mesmerizing admiration.
If appreciable art can indeed be found in the imitation of life, then Australian Ron Mueck’s immaculate hyper-realist sculptures are a textbook example. Nine of Mueck’s works are currently on show at the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain in Paris, including three created especially for the exhibition which opened on Tuesday.
The artist’s brutally honest sculptures of the human form allow his subjects no room for dignity. They are often near or fully naked, and veins, blemishes and wrinkles are crafted with astonishing detail. The addition of body hair, nails and eyelashes to his beings renders them all but breathing. Disconcerting, yes, but there is something about his work which fascinates people around the world.
Mueck is known to be a reclusive genius who rarely gives interviews. He worked in the television business before moving into fine art, where he has refined his highly developed technique of reproducing the human body. The exhibition includes a screening of an unedited film offering an insight into the fascinating process the artist undertakes with the help of several assistants.
The sole aspect of Mueck’s work that departs from a dogmatic adherence to realism is the scale. Famous for his oversized figures, Mueck has said he likes big because we see regular sized people everyday. The sheer size of his large works emphasises the sense of human fragility the figures evoke, and you cannot avoid being engulfed by it.
The centrepiece of the current exhibition is “Couple under an Umbrella”. Visible from the street, an enormous, aging couple lie on the ground floor of the gallery, splayed in relaxed positions and wearing only swimming costumes as if at the beach. If you are able to see beyond the affront of the dilapidated bodies, the couple have an air of quiet contentment in their gazes, reminding us all how best to embrace the aging process.
Equally poignant, Mueck’s smaller scale statuettes create also this heightened sense of vulnerability. “Woman with Shopping” was inspired by a seemingly banal scene Mueck saw in the street- a woman carrying a tiny baby on her chest as her hands were occupied with shopping bags. The one-metre-high scale of the sculpture accentuates the helplessness of the figures.
Preferring not to use models, Mueck often uses himself as a reference point. The exhibition includes “Mask II,” an astonishing eight-foot reproduction of the artist’s face. Some of the other figures also show an uncanny resemblance to the artist (even if as an elderly or feminine variation), adding another element of intrigue to this captivating exhibition.
Mueck’s works are on show at the Fondation Cartier de l’art contemporain until 29 September 2013. More information on the exhibition is available HERE.
by Jenny Wylie
Image by Sophia Mariano