One of the most compelling, and valid, reasons to show contemporary art in an encyclopedic museum like Brooklyn is to remind ourselves that the great themes are always with us. Birth and death, love and loneliness, body and mind—these are among the elemental subjects of art as old as the earliest objects in the Museum’s famed Egyptian collection, and as fresh as Ron Mueck’s remarkable recent sculpture.
In the rotunda gallery where you now stand, the Museum usually exhibits its collection of sculpture by Auguste Rodin (now displayed in the first-floor entrance pavilion). It is interesting to compare the two artists, both “realists” of a sort, but with very different goals.
Rodin’s figures are so convincing that he was accused of casting from nature. Yet he deliberately included the marks of his fingers in clay and his chisel on stone. Thus, he reminds us that the sculptures are the product of a human mind and hand, while simultaneously claiming the role of the heroic artist.
Mueck, no less skillful a mimic of nature, tries to appear as detached and invisible as a photographer. The illusion draws us into an incomplete story as romantic as any Hollywood movie, yet more believable and certainly more palpable. A fresh-born, innocent Baby hangs on a wall in a Christ-like pose; a resigned Man in a Boat floats, adrift and naked, in a vast and waterless sea.
Many of the sculptures bear a striking resemblance to Mueck himself or to his family or friends, and most of them are substantially either larger or smaller than life-size. These facts add new layers of suggestion, mystery, and meaning, as we float, god-like, above a father’s corpse, or stand like re-made children next to mama’s bed.
Rodin famously built his sculpture out of bits and pieces—a closely studied hand was attached to a torso, perhaps, then a foot, then the head—and frequently exhibited the fragments themselves as finished works. Mueck, too, has made a meticulous study of the body. Yet, his philosophical approach to its depiction is the inverse of Rodin’s. “The only way I could do a fragment was to make it a mask,” he has said, “because a mask is a whole thing in itself. I couldn’t do a decapitated head or half a body.
I have to believe in the object as a whole thing.” Perhaps, as much as his technical skill, it is his own belief that ultimately convinces us, as well.
Deputy Director for Art
April 7, 2006
Ron Mueck, a solo exhibition of ten works by the sculptor Ron Mueck, known for his extraordinarily lifelike, empathetic renderings of his subjects, will be presented at the Brooklyn Museum from November 3, 2006, through February 11, 2007.
The exhibition includes five major new works, commissioned by the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain in Paris, where they were recently presented to an enthusiastic audience of 75,000 visitors. Five additional works on loan from North American collections will be added to the Brooklyn exhibition, the only United States presentation before the show travels to the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
Born in Australia in 1958, Mueck began creating his scrupulously detailed sculpture in the 1990s. His works are so lifelike, with veins, wrinkles, sagging skin, and body hair, that viewers almost expect them to breathe.
Included in the exhibition will be Dead Dad (1996-97), commemorating the death of his father through a somewhat smaller than life-size sculpture, which captivated Brooklyn Museum visitors when it was included in the exhibition Sensation. Among the other works included in Ron Mueck will be Wild Man (2005), a nine-foot sculpture of a naked, bearded man clutching the stool he is seated on, and Head of Baby (2003), a more than eight-foot-tall head of a newborn infant.
Through his detailed works, which are always either smaller than life size or monumental, Mueck explores the ambiguous relationship of reality to artifice through strategies of imitation and illusion. His earlier pieces were sculpted with fiberglass, but recently he has begun to work with silicone, which is more flexible and allows greater ease in shaping body parts and implanting hair.
After working in Australian television as a puppet maker, Ron Mueck went to Los Angeles in 1986, where he worked in the film industry, and later moved to London. For a time he worked for Jim Henson on Sesame Street and the Muppet Show. For more than a decade, he has focused on creating his sculptures, which have been the subject of previous solo exhibitions at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and the Nationalgalerie im Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, and have been included in several group exhibitions.
The Brooklyn Museum presentation is organized by Charles Desmarais, Deputy Director for Art at the Brooklyn Museum. A bilingual catalogue accompanies the exhibition.