The captivating hyper-realism of Australia-born sculptor Ron Mueck is so lifelike it genuinely may make your hair stand on end
Compiled by Robin Jay
Australia-born artist Ron Mueck relishes breaking museum attendance records with his astonishing hyper-realistic sculpture exhibits. The artist’s figures – extraordinarily lifelike, except in scale, and always depicted much smaller or larger than life – drew such magnificent crowds at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth a decade ago that curators have invited him back for an encore showcase in 2018.
The Genius Process
Mueck often takes more than a year to develop his creations, first modeling his visions in clay with meticulous attention to detail. He casts the clay carvings in silicone, fiberglass, and/or resin and spends months refining and refining.
The somewhat reclusive Mueck rarely allows onlookers to watch him at work. In a rare interview, he told experts at the Brooklyn Museum, “I change the scale intuitively, really avoiding life-size because it’s ordinary. There’s no math involved; I usually do a sketch on paper and if it looks good to me, then I use that scale for the actual piece. The shift in scale draws you in and in some ways engages you at a different level.
“I spend quite a while making paper mock-ups and sketches of varying sizes before I commit myself to sculpting the clay. I can still change it all right up to the molding stage, by which time I know if the size is working for me or not.”
A Curator’s Perspective
“Drawing upon memory and reality, Mueck’s lifelike sculptures are instantly relatable on a human level,” said Andrea Karnes, senior curator at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. “Because he often portrays easily identifiable human experiences, as in Woman with Shopping, 2013, which depicts a woman carrying grocery bags, with her baby nestled in a sling at her chest, we immediately understand the situation through compassion. Yet Mueck’s calculated shifts in scale throw us off by adding an element of ambiguity between reality and artifice. For example, the woman in this piece is less than 4 feet tall, perhaps suggesting that she feels overwhelmed.”
A Look At The Artist’s Life
Mueck, 59, currently lives in the UK. Before shifting his focus to art in the mid 1990s, he worked on children’s television shows – including Sesame Street and The Muppet Show – as a puppeteer and puppet maker until 1983. Afterward, the creative soul transitioned into designing special effects models for television and film in the United States and London and then, eventually, evolved into a career as a fine artist.
“Untitled (Seated Woman), 1999, based on his wife’s grandmother, is one of the most popular works in the Modern’s permanent collection and represents the early mature phase of his transition to sculpture,” Karnes said.
“Comfort and discomfort are pretty broad terms. Each viewer will arrive with their own comfort/discomfort levels,” Mueck once said. “The space has a huge effect on the works. With sculpture, the space creates a tangible context. You can’t really predict it; you have to work with it. There are always surprises.”
‘New Works by Ron Mueck’ will be on view to the public at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth from February 16 through May 6, 2018. For ticket information, visit www.themodern.org.
Editor’s note: Some selections of Ron Mueck’s work shown in this layout aren’t necessarily included in the Fort Worth exhibit.