Handling “Ron Mueck”: An Interview with Chief Preparator Dale Benson March 24, 2017
The sculptures in the exhibition Ron Mueck may look like real people, but they didn’t walk into the Museum’s galleries off the street. Just ask Dale Benson, the Museum’s chief preparator—or art handler—whose job was to help orchestrate the placement of the 13 works of art in the galleries. We chatted about what it was like to install the show, which, as Benson put it, is “all about scale.”
How does Ron Mueck compare with other exhibitions you’ve installed?
I’ve been in preparations for more than 25 years, and this exhibition is unique—simply because Ron Mueck’s sculptures are so lifelike. I’m constantly waiting for a chest to breathe or an eye to blink. The figures are so fantastically real-looking that you can be caught off-guard when you’re handling them so closely, face-to-face.
Dale Benson and preparator Robert Kimberly slide Mask II into place.
Obviously, one really fun part of these sculptures is their size. When you’re working right up next to them—whether it’s the tiny Crouching Boy in Mirror or the large infant, A Girl—there’s almost a certain reverence, like it’s a real person that you have to be very polite and courteous to (“I’m going to pick you up now!”).
A couple of these sculptures are so large, I’m sure visitors will wonder how they got here! Were they hard to handle?
The very large, monumental pieces are, for their size, extremely light. If they were made of solid wood or stone rather than fiberglass and silicon rubber, they would require special lifting equipment. Instead, two people can easily hold the large Still Life or a leg on the man from the Couple under an Umbrella. Even the relatively heavy A Girl can be moved by eight people. Unlike some of Mueck’s later works, the 16½-foot-long A Girl is one piece. It came in the largest crate I’ve ever brought into the Museum!
Top to bottom: A Girl is lifted from the crate onto sawhorses; the preparations team removes the braces along the bottom of the sculpture and inspects it carefully.
Was there anything about this installation that surprised you?
I come from a sculpting background and have done a lot of casting myself. The attention to detail, the technical aspects of how these were made, and the amount of work that went into everything are so impressive. It’s amazing. The photos can’t do it justice—visitors will still be surprised when they see the works in person.
Dale Benson strikes a pose with Woman with Shopping.
See “Ron Mueck” on view in the Beck Building through Sunday, August 13.
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