Ron Mueck at Hauser & Wirth

I’ve been drawn to Ron Mueck’s absurdly lifelike sculptures for some time – charmed by his attentive remake of ‘reality’, and intrigued by the ‘reality’ he selects to represent. As far as appearances go, art has never been closer to the truth (we may have to briefly parenthesise photography in this definition of art), and yet these artworks hung and plinthed in the Hauser & Wirth Gallery on Saville Row, are a surreal experience for the eye.

Meuck has throughout his career toyed with size. In exhibitions such as ‘Statuephilia’ at the British Museum (October 2008 – January 2009), it was an unbelievably large scale, whereas in this show humans are shrunk and chickens swelled. With his absurd creation of textures, nails appear to be ripped straight off a baby, such as the diddy ‘Youth’ and ‘Woman with Sticks’ sculptures. Then there was ‘Drift’, undoubtedly my favourite. Hung in the largest of rooms, the man’s scale is dwarfed by the room. One would assume from a description of a sculpture – a man on a lilo attached to a blue wall evocative of water – that he would seem to coast around it, but he, like our eyes on him are, is fixated. I’ll come back to this piece…

But first to introduce my key thought: from sculptures so seemingly truthful, what could there be for the viewer to assume, explore or revel in discovering stood before these? Well, Mueck’s sculptures serve a purpose quite different from wax works. Their subject matters are not chosen for popularity’s sake but for a visual interest, and that is not to say that they stand for curiosities like the Elephant Man in Victoria’s reign; no they are structured according to some established iconographic constructions. It is this that makes them most interesting. For, when the technique says nothing but illuminate that, which it mimics – reality – our attention can only be drawn to the content.

I was captivated by ‘Drift’. As I have already mentioned, the element that first struck me was Mueck’s avocation of scale, entering the room at the opposite end to the mounted sculpture, and facing it frontally, I saw something quite different from a man carelessly floating across a crystal-clear sea. This man is tensely gripping to the wall, his eyebrows raised above his Ray-Bans as though in utter discomfort, (so it’s hardly the picture of plain sailing then.) His arms are stiffly hung at a 45-degree angle to his lilo, are in perfect symmetry with each other, but this is hardly an ideal tanning posture. Then there’s his heels which are pressed as tightly to the surface of the blow-up bed as possible, his toes could easily be cramping as they point to the sun. Do you now see the iconography of the crucifix or is that just me? And what could this mean?

Then there’s the Doubting Thomas, humbled at 28 cm tall, he is named by Ron ‘Youth’. The suggestion is that he, a black teen, stabbed in the right-hand of his chest, could be one of many youths. But to me, he is so clearly the dubious Saint Thomas inspecting the wounds to see if Christ’s words stand true. Here the artist has adapted the well-known iconography, appropriating it for our age, and in the meantime removing a character and morphing the savior, and the uncertain follower into one body.  What then could Mueck be hoping to get at here? For once, I’m going to leave an interpretation to you…

To see two particularly fantastic pieces [and two others which are hardly bad], get along to Savile Row before 26 May 2012.


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