Saturday, 20 March 2010

Ron Mueck @ the NGV

The exhibition of hyper-realist sculptor Ron Mueck's work (at the NGV till 18th April) is well worth a visit.

Mueck's early career was as a model maker and puppeteer. He worked for Jim Henson (Sesame Street)and later he moved into cinema animatronics. He was increasingly frustrated by having to make realistic images which were in effect one-sided - the studios were not going to waste money on creating the side that was not visible to the camera!

In 1996 he moved into fine art and started to make realistic sculptures that are perfect from all angles. I was entranced by the Wild Man's back - it has various little pimples and moles and even a few hairs!

Charles Saatchi was impressed by Ron Mueck's work and invited him to contribute an exhibit to the Saatchi Gallery's "Sensation" show at the Royal Academy in 1997. Mueck showed Dead Dad, a nude, two-thirds lifesize figure depicting his late father. The work received a great deal of critical acclaim and made Mueck's name as an important modern sculptor.

Dead Dad is the first sculpture you will see as you enter the show at the NGV. Mueck used resin, fibreglass, silicone and polyurethane as he does for all his sculptures, but this is the only work in which he also used some of his own hair. This is a haunting work with a lot of emotional power. It exudes an air of poignancy, as indeed many of Mueck's sculptures do.

They are all a bit unsettling and disturbing to the viewer - perhaps the scale has something to do with it: they are either much bigger or much smaller than lifesize. In an interview with The Guardian, Ron Mueck said: "I never make life-size figures because it never seems to be interesting. We meet life-size people every day."

His figures, very often nude, seem imbued with pathos and vulnerability and the viewer has the uneasy feeling of encroaching on their privacy.

The notes supplied at the exhibition for each work, mention merely the title and the materials used. There is no background information, which makes each work a kind of three-dimensional Rorschach test: an ambiguous figure on which the viewer projects their own imagined "story" and emotional response.

I saw the Wild Man, clenching his toes and clutching his stool in his anxiety, as someone who had just emerged from decades of a hermit-like existence and is flinching from his "rescuers". Of two friends with whom I discussed the exhibition, one thought he was being interrogated at Abu Ghraib and the other (who once had similar issues) said he is having terrifying hallucinations in a detox clinic!

In the Guardian interview, Mueck mentioned that he modelled the newborn infant (A Girl), on his own newborn daughter, reproducing the details of the umbilical cord, the blood and the mucus. He made her 20ft long, he says, because for the first weeks of her life, she loomed so large in the family's life.

It is interesting to look at the sculptures in conjuction with one's fellow-visitors. As the viewers come into the line of sight of the figures, they seem to become part of the tableau: the two old ladies seem to be gossping about whoever they are at that moment disapprovingly looking at; the apprehensive woman in bed is looking with some concern at those who are standing at her bedside.