What Modern Sculpture Can Reveal

Ron Mueck 

Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris

Attended 30 June 2013

After seeing stunning classical sculptures in Rome recently, some friends and I discussed modern sculpture and what would be remembered from our time. Are there works which will have the capacity to move people as effectively as the sight of Plutos’ hand sinking into Proserpina’s flesh as in Bernini’s, “The Rape of Proserpina” at the Villa Borghese?


Ron Mueck’s work, currently being presented at the Fondation Cartier in Paris is our generation’s solid riposte to the classical masters. Nine pieces are in the exhibition, which showcase Australian-born Mueck meticulously detailed, hyper-real sculptures of humans and other creatures.

One of the three new works, Couple Under An Umbrella (2013) featured a large-sized elderly couple apparently reclining on the sand. The wife, complete with stretched lycra swimsuit and knobbly knees and elbows, looks serene as her husband leans his head on her thighs. The man’s wispy grey armpit hairs were exposed as he reaches up and tenderly clasps her arm. You could see the woman’s wedding ring cutting into her flesh on her finger, and yet the impact of the scene is of serene contentment, and I couldn’t help but feel a little envious of this settled couple on their beach, wherever it was, who have got through so much together.


Woman With Shopping (2013) is another work that stood out for me – a half-size sculpture of a woman with her baby facing towards her inside her cloak. The woman’s greasy fringe-framed face is wrinkled and wrung out, clasping the mundanity of Sainsbury shopping bags full of baked beans and Yorkshire tea. The positioning of the baby almost made it appear like a parasite, drawing the life out of her. Coming back on the Tube that night, I saw what could have been the same woman with child and same look of desolation.


In contrast to Couple Under An Umbrella, another new piece entitled Young Couple (2013), an apparently ordinary scene of a young man and woman talking close, but with a sense of aggression through the positioning of the young man’s face in relation to the girl, and the way he is grasping her by the wrist. That can’t be a tender hold.


Attention to detail makes Mueck’s work so compelling – the skin is so life-like you can see every pore, the hair is so real you want to touch it.  It’s eerie and compelling.  Mask II (2003), said to be a self-portrait, plays on this hyper-realism by presenting a sliver of face only, on its side.


Mueck’s work was beautifully arranged and lit in the Fondation Cartier, especially Man in a Boat (2002) and Drift (2009), which is mounted on a wall. Complementing the exhibition was a screening of an unedited documentary called Still Life: Ron Mueck at Work. An excerpt can be seen here.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time for a full viewing, but based on the snippet I saw it is sure to shed light on this slow but sure Australian artist.

So modern sculpture can move us in new ways, after all.


Note: none of these pictures belong to me.

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