Ron Mueck, 25 Years of Sculpture @ Thaddaeus Ropac, London

Ron Mueck,,Youth, 2009.2010

Thus, we are constantly moving between the stories associated with the figure and marvelling its status as an art object. Moreover, we keep questioning our responses. In the sculptures that depict dead beings—an oversized chicken, a tiny father, a huge skull which shows its signs of production—the vividness of the decaying skin can be somehow repellent. The melancholy has been removed from the body as matter. Similarly, the baby just born, lying on its mother’s stomach with the umbilical cord still attached is overwhelmed by the blood and mess of bodies opened and connected, emptied of emotion.

Ron Mueck,Dead Dad, 1996-97

And yet, they are both empty and overflowing with emotion. By turns, there is a sadness and poignancy to the fact that some of them are like masks, they are not full faces. The masks are sad or angry, violated in some way, even if that violation happens in the form of a baby being born. Amid the well of emotions, there is intimacy to the figures. This often comes in the multiple figures, for example, the mothers with their children, or the enormous couple under a beach umbrella. The couple are complete with wrinkles, sun spots, hairs sprouting in unsuspected places. The physical body stripped bare reveals an emotional vulnerability. Indeed, the figures are often at their most vulnerable – the father, naked on his death bed, a man wrapped in a blanket, perhaps trying to survive on the streets. Even the old couple are caught in an unguarded moment, enjoying the depth and longevity of their relationship together as she bends her head to look into his eyes, he gently rests his hand on her arm.

Ron Mueck, Mother and Child, 2003

Wandering through the exhibition, I felt as though I was walking in the land of the giants, particularly as I watched other people hover over tiny figures, or look up to massive ones. When others surrounded the miniature figures, I started to sense a discomfort, wanting to protect them. Then as I moved up close to the giants as if gawking at them under a microscope, I felt as though I was intruding on their privacy. The complexity of Mueck’s sculpture, as well as our responses to it, envelop them in endless intrigue. That said, this exhibition included a series of stills of Mueck in his studio, unveiling the mystery of these life-like compositions. Which is to say, we may see how they are made by the artist, but the photographs only served to underline that the sculptures might be constructed, but we nevertheless continue to behave towards them as though they are beings. Dead or alive, it doesn’t matter.

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