Thomas Keane asks just how good is Ron Mueck really? Pretty good, actually!
An exhibition of hyper-realist sculptor Ron Mueck is well-timed. Emerging in the mid-1990s under the patronage of Charles Saatchi – at that time when it was Saatchi’s prerogative to make lists of What’s-Hot-and-What’s-Not – Mueck is to all intents and purpose a YBA, but for one insignificant detail; he is Australian.
And so this Hauser & Wirth exhibition of his new work – Mueck’s first in London for over a decade – can be located within current YBA renaissance when, a tad arthritic, the big guns of the 90s are being wheeled out to make a case for their retained relevance (think Damien Hirst at the Tate, Tracey Emin at Turner Contemporary, Gillian Wearing at Whitechapel, Gavin Turk at Ben Brown, Picasso at… etc).
And so now, as with the bracketed above, the jury is out, and we have to opportunity to ask, with that all-important temporal distance, just how good is Ron Mueck really?
The 2009 work ‘Drift’, occupying the entire first gallery, provides the existential centrepiece of the exhibition. A diminutive sunbather, floating on a lilo – arms extended, Christ-like in Hawaiian shorts (and looking rather like a paunch-less Jack Nicholson) – has been installed upright, and up-high, upon an extensive gallery wall, painted pool blue. His isolation augmented by his depleted scale, and further dwarfed by the surrounding expanse, this figurine becomes a universal symbol of the pointless drift through the universe – of the human obliviousness to our own insignificance, way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine (GCSE English Lit. anyone?).
The second work ‘Woman with Sticks’ is exactly what it purports to be – a sizeable, near-haggard naked woman, struggling with an awkwardly large bundle of branches. Like a cherub for whom the passage of time has been somewhat cruel, this woman’s bulging curves have an unhealthy, yellowish scurvy tint, her pubic hair bushes out to rival the thicket-load, and her eyes squintily bulge with ugly exertion.
Icky maybe, but the fundamental indignity of this character, and her compromised position, cannot but resonate as a symbol of the pathos of human endeavour –inevitably a #fail on some level, despite all pretences to stately decorum. Even Mila Kunis must pass water, and her beauty will fade with time.
Finally, there is the work ‘Still-life’ – a thoroughly plucked, and trussed-up dead chicken, blown up to monumental proportions. Thanks to its size, and with the pallid pastiness of post-feather poultry looking eerily like human flesh, this animal starts to look like the victim of a terrible murder, neck-slashed, meat-hook-hoisted. The effect (and here comes the compulsory musing on ‘the human condition’) is to contextualise the death of a person within the scale of nature; we think nothing of the butchery of a chicken – its life is fleeting, its intelligence miniscule, its appearance unseemly; but it what way exactly does that distinguish it from a human? As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.
So, is Mueck worth a second chance? Sparse though it may be (especially in juxtaposition with Andy Hope’s exhibition next door), these works are pearls of great price. Great is his technical skill; greater still is his ability to belittle the vainglorious viewer. Words/ Photo Thomas Keane © 2012 ArtLyst
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