Artist Ron Mueck (born 1958 in Melbourne, Australia) draws upon memories, reveries, and everyday experience as he portrays his subjects with extraordinary compassion.
Evolution of a Sculptor
After working as a model-maker in film and television in the United States and London, Mueck shifted his focus to the fine arts in the mid-1990s; among his first sculptures was a figure of the young Pinocchio, commissioned by painter Paula Rego in 1996. He came to international attention the following year with Dead Dad, an imagined, half-scale portrait of his naked father laid out in death—one of the standout works featured in Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection, organized by the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Mueck has continued to build his career around figures that span the cycle of life, or in the words of William Shakespeare, from “the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms” to “mere oblivion.”
The MFAH exhibition Ron Mueck features one of the artist’s most well-known works: Mask II. A self-portrait that is nearly four times larger than life-sized, Mask II demonstrates the subtle play of realities that characterize much of Mueck’s work. Our attention is immediately arrested by the artwork’s vivid realism and monumental scale. We may also empathize with this sleeping man, and wonder where his dreams take him.
However, if you walk around Mask II, you will discover that like all masks, it is hollow at the back. The qualities that make it appear to be real—for example the way in which flesh slides downward to meet the support—also make the object unreal, because an actual mask would not respond to gravity in this manner.
Ron Mueck, Mask II, 2001–02, mixed media, Gift of Helen and Charles Schwab through the Art Supporting Foundation to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. © Ron Mueck
Other works in the exhibition similarly invite sympathy and close looking. You may find yourself identifying with a young mother, contemplating her newborn daughter. Or the adolescent boy who crouches down to peer into a mirror. Or the old couple, locked in an eternal moment when affection is both offered and taken for granted. In Mueck’s universe, each stage of life is precious, both transient and timeless.
See “Ron Mueck,” on view in the Beck Building from February 26 through August 13, 2017.