Remember the David Bowie/Jennifer Connelly movie Labyrinth? One of the model-makers on the set was a young Australian named Ron Mueck.
After dabbling in creating realistic props for advertising (that’s where the money is, baby!), Mueck started producing three-dimensional sculptures purely for art. His work quickly caused a sensation in art circles in the United Kingdom, and Dead Dad — displayed as part of the 1997 Sensation show at the Royal Academy of Arts — gave him international fame.
We’re fortunate to have been able to see a collection of twelve of Mueck’s works at the Gallery of Modern Art here in Brisbane. The girls are young enough to innocently appraise the naked form without being silly, so we took them into the show.
Dead Dad (1996–97), A three-foot-long sculpture of Mueck's father lying on his back, naked. This sculpture uses Mueck's real hair.
Talking about this piece, Mueck said, "I didn't really get on with my father but, as I made the piece, I found myself thinking about him, caring." (I can't help but wonder what Mueck's father would think of himself displayed like this.)
A Girl (2006). Newborn baby, with part of her umbilical cord and some blood.
The baby appears to be glistening wet from her birth.
Wild Man (2005). A nine-foot sculpture of a naked, bearded, fearful man clutching the stool he is seated on.
The colours of his knuckles show how tightly he's gripping his seat.
Woman with Sticks (2008). 180 cm-high model of naked woman, bent backwards, carrying huge bundle of sticks.
Looking at this lady's face, the realism is so striking that you expect her eyes to move. You glance back just to make sure that the edges of her smile haven't changed since the last time you looked. Mueck's attention to detail is evident in the scratches on this lady's arms.
In Bed (2005). Huge woman lying in bed, hand raised to her face in a contemplative pose. (From the eyes of an adult, this is probably close to the perspective our children experience when they approach us as we lie in bed.)
This figure is based on Mueck's wife. The redness of her eyes and eyelids tell of a hard day — it could be physical fatigue or emotional stress. What is she thinking about? Some household chore, perhaps, or something more troubling?
Two Women (2005). Two diminutive, clothed, elderly women, standing as though gossiping.
I get the feeling that they don't trust me.
Are they muttering about the woman in the corner with no clothes on and a big bundle of sticks, or are they concerned about David's theological positions?
Man in a Boat (2002). Small, naked man seated toward the prow of a 4-metre-long rowing boat. This man looks a lot like "Dead Dad", so we presume it's another portrait of Mueck's father.
Here I am, trying to see things from Mr Mueck's perspective.
Still Life (2009). Slaughtered and plucked chicken, same size as a human being, hung from a hook by its feet.
The chook is still dripping from being washed.
Drift (2009). A man floating on his back on inflatable raft, wearing sunglasses and swimming trunks.
The muscles and sinews are so well-defined.
Mask II (2001-2). Huge head (the face is Mueck's own), lying on its side as if asleep.
The sculpture's amazing details were carried through to the nose hairs and teeth.
We didn't realise this was a self-portrait of Mueck until after we had gone through the exhibition and then watched a video of the creative process.
Youth (2009). Diminutive figure (65 cm high) of African or African-American youth, holding up his T-shirt to examine a wound in his side.
I am amazed at Mueck's work.
Mueck’s process for creating these works is truly astounding. For an overview, have a look at this video, featuring a huge pregnant woman. In 2003, the National Gallery of Australia acquired Pregnant Woman for A$817,000. If you’d like to see more of Mueck’s works, visit the Wikipedia page and browse through the links.
And if you’re in southeast Queensland, do make a visit to GoMA a priority. This is world-class artwork in our backyard. It was only $12 per adult to get into the exhibit (kids under 12yo are free), and we parked underneath the cultural precinct for a flat-rate of $14. Good value for a day of exceptional entertainment!