Four recent works by the Melbourne-born, British-based artist Ron Mueck (pronounced ‘Mew-eck’) are on view for a month at Hauser & Wirth on Saville Row.
His ultra-illusionistic sculptures of bodies – always rendered at a significantly smaller or larger scale than life size – immediately gratify audiences with their gasp-inducing verisimilitude, the result of meticulous fabrication techniques honed in his early career as a model maker and puppeteer for films and television shows, including Jim Henson productions such as Labyrinth (1986).
Mueck’s big break in the art world was his inclusion in ‘Sensation’ at the Royal Academy in 1997. The work presented to public and critical acclaim was a scaled-down replication of his dead father, Dead Dad (1996–97). The figure lay on the floor, its naked body reproduced in painstaking precision. But the diminutive size of the work added a strange sense of vulnerability, as if the corpse should be picked up and cradled in the arms like a child.
His pieces at Hauser & Wirth similarly combine high realism in execution with a marked surrealism in terms of their size and situation. But Mueck also mixes in religious iconography in a rather heavy-handed manner. In Drift (2009) a lilo-lying man in swimming trunks and sunglasses stretches out his undersized arms like Jesus on the Cross. Youth (2009) is a small-scale figure of a boy who pulls up his shirt to see a stab wound in his side; the work references religious art about Saint Thomas, the doubting disciple who artists including Caravaggio
painted examining the stomach wound of Christ. These bolted-on associations distract from the works’ beautiful detail and composition, which is almost balletic at times, the boy in Youth poised as if about to rise in a plié.
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine