Ron Mueck at Hauser & Wirth


Ron Mueck's work boils down to a play on scale. Tangentially it raises some questions about the role of art and the problem with realism.

Mueck is quite well known for his extremely realistic sculptures, four of which are on display in this exhibition. The figures could be alive (or once-alive in the case of the giant chicken), except for their stillness. The details - from the veins within the flesh to the tiny arm hairs - have been created in such a way that the works jump the uncanny valley. Instead of recoiling from the figures in disgust, one is tempted to touch them in such a way as to force them to reveal the life within. The fact that the figures are only a quarter of the size they should be is secondary to their realistic appearance.

Mueck's use of scale is one of the two factors that makes up the very thin line separating his work from the displays at Madame Tussaud's. Mueck's people are either too big, or too small. The other factor is that his sculptures feature normal people instead of celebrities. Im not entirely sure I like this decision. After all, wouldn't a nude Rihanna with Sticks make for a meditation on the eternal feminine that is at least as compelling as Mueck's middle aged hobbit?

The other effect of Mueck's scaling is a bit more subtle, and it has to do with how we react to his work. To call a fourteen inch sculpture of a teenager extremely realistic is to overlook the fact that a fourteen inch teenager has no basis in reality. This is a problem with realism generally, in that it invokes a myopic tendency to focus on the elements which are closest to reality at the expense of those which are completely absurd. This is true for video games where technological advances have made for depictions of soldiers and warfare that are graphically realistic, and laughably unrealistic in all other aspects.

Technically, the work is very good, and admission is free, making it a bargain when compared with Madame Tussaud's. While you cant pose with President Obama, you can make do with the giant dead chicken.

Ron Mueck is at Hauser & Wirth until the 26th of May.

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