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April 15, 2012 4:19 pm
Serious sculptor or special effects puppeteer? It is 15 years since Ron Mueck astonished visitors at the Royal Academy’s “Sensation” show with “Dead Dad”: a silicone and acrylic sculpture depicting in acute detail – stiffened posture, wizened face, limp genitals, splayed feet – yet at unnervingly diminished two-thirds scale, the cadaver of his father, who had recently died. Since then Mueck has shown his uncanny hyper-realist works worldwide – in Edinburgh, Mexico, Japan, his native Australia, where he began his career making models for children’s animation series – but he has not had a major London exhibition for more than a decade. What has he been doing, and how does what curator Robert Rosenblum called “this modern Frankenstein” look today, when the art of sensation is being assimilated – as shown at Tate’s Damien Hirst retrospective – into museum history?
It was the Sensation generation’s radical attitude to realism and real life that was so discomforting; Mueck’s ability to suggest the abnormality of the normal and the normality of the abnormal through games of scale and theatricality should be well demonstrated in Hauser and Wirth’s dramatic Savile Row gallery. Suspended in the centre will be “Still Life”, a dead chicken, stripped of its feathers, hung by its feet and enlarged to human size. “Woman with Sticks”, sturdy and showing the blemishes of middle age, is a character from a fairy tale, struggling to carry a bundle of sticks twice as big as she is. “Drift” is a smaller figure: a contemporary sunbather in tropical swimming shorts on a lilo, installed not horizontally but vertically, high on a gallery wall – precarious, about to disappear, almost translucent rather than fleshy, and recalling the pose of the Crucifixion. “Youth”, a black teenager in low-slung jeans pulling up his bloodstained shirt incredulously, to inspect an open stab wound, reiterates the Christian motif – a doubting St Thomas demanding to see Jesus’s wounds, and in so doing facing his own mortality: Mueck’s constant theme.
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