Ron Mueck @ National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Rob Mueck @ National Gallery of Victoria, MelbourneSaturday, 1 May 2010

Dear Diary,

Ron Mueck’s exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria had delivered on all expectations and deserved all the furore that surrounded it. Composed of no more than a dozen sculptures, it spans ten years of the artist’s career; and though the works might seem a little repetitive at times, his execution is always so meticulous, as to make one wanting to experience more interpretations of the human beings by this gifted sculptor.

Mueck always plays with the scale; his figures are either well above or well below life size, but always hyper-realist and believable – whether one looks at the wrinkles of an old lady or veins of a newly-born baby.

Rob Mueck - Two WomenRon Mueck - The YouthThe two statues of old women are perhaps among the most touching in the exhibition. Two Women (2005, NGV) and Old Woman in Bed (2002, AGNSW) are very sympathetic studies, bound to bring a tear to anyone with a memory of an ailing grandmother or a spinster aunt, dressed for comfort rather than style, and always cold no matter the season or time of day.

Perhaps one of the most humorous and most Paula Rego-esque (the latter is the artist’s mother-in-law) is Mueck’s Woman with the Sticks (2008, Private Collection), where every crease in her – shall we say – Rubenesque body is precisely sculpted, her figure topped by an unruly head of tangled black hair. The enormous load of sticks is a joyous challenge rather than a chore; the whole reminiscent of a narrative, fable-like quality that is the mainstay of Rego’s art.

Religious and allegorical references are ubiquitous in a realist, figurative sculpture exhibition like this. The Youth in his eponymous sculpture (2009, Anthony d’Offay) could be ambiguously examining a knife gash, or lifting his shirt to reveal a wound to a doubting St Thomas. His Still Life (2009, Anthony d’Offay) – a sculpture of a dead chook hung upside down on a meat hook – is semantically reminiscent of the martyrdom of St Andrew, or a dark take on Mussolini’s execution; while The Drift (2009, Anthony d’Offay) – a sculpture of a man with outstretched arms on a lie-low – is floating above the crowds like a contemporary Crucifixion scene.

Ron Mueck - Woman with the SticksI guess one can go on forever intellectualising the exhibition and the artist’s oeuvre as a cycle of life, preoccupation with aging and death, etc., but one can also take a personal delight in looking at the work by an artist who is obviously enjoying his craft, and who excels in the meticulous finish, faultless execution, and physical sensation of his pieces.

[© Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

May 2010


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