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Gigantic baby and tiny dad (Ron Mueck)

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A little day music; Australia’s favourites

Did anyone else listen to ABC’s Classic FM over Easter? They ran a program called First Time Classics – listeners wrote in with their stories of the music that turned them on. Yesterday the weekend “extravaganza,” came to a climax, with hosts Christopher Lawrence, a Classic stalwart, and the person he called a “succesful author,” Bradley Trevor Greive (he’s only sold 20 million books – you know, the Blue Day Book etc). Is it only me who thinks that Chris Lawrence comes across like an older, husky-voiced woman? Nothing wrong with that – it was a frissony contrast to Trevor Greive’s ex-soldier boysy good cheer. Anyway, the program organiser Marian Arnold told us that the most votes received – a ninth of the total – were for two composers, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. And Australians’ (ie, the classical music demographic) two most common music starters were Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, the Pastoral; and topping the list, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Nature and war – such romantics, Australians, practically Russians in taste.

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deaddad

The figure in space: Ron Mueck’s sculptures

The Mueck show ends in two weeks, so if you’re in Melbourne, scoot along (it moves to Queensland and Christchurch after). Quite apart from the the work, the most exciting thing about the exhibition was that photography was allowed; practically encouraged. This is so unusual – an occasion almost unique – in an Australian gallery I had a dizzssying nanomoment when I thought I might be back in MoMA, or Munich. A few years ago I was told firmly to put away my pencil and refrain from doing a sketch of some Nolan pictures, which were behind glass (at the NGV). I was not to draw in the gallery. It was against the rules. He didn’t make them. He was just enforcing them. Please put away your pencil now. (I wrote a protest email to the Director, but only received a huffingly vague sorry, but, from some assistant.)

Anyway, the Muecks. You’ll have seen a few of these around but this is the first large scale survey in the country. Mueck was a local Melbourne boy but he’s such a big deal now they’ve put him up in the International wing on St Kilda Rd rather than the domestic galleries at Fed Square. Handily the son of toy makers (and son-in-law of grand London artist Paula Rego) Mueck makes amazingly believable figures showing mostly ordinary folk in mostly not unusual poses – the difference is in scale. The qualifier of believability is not a high priority in sculpture – what’s a marble head to you, or a steel cantilever? – but with Mueck (also Patricia Piccinini) it is crucial. We need to see the figures as … people. (Hyper-real is the term du jour, but can a figure be realer than real people?) The scale is the other crucial element. It is in seeing the shrunk, vulnerably naked Dead Dad (1996-97, above), and tiny old lady under her doona, and the room-sized new-born baby and the giant woman slumping back in bed that we encounter the meaning of Mueck’s art.

But viewers must jump a hurdle. The audience is so fascinated and impressed by the virtuosity of the surfaces – wrinkly skin, dry old skin and glossy young, eyelashes and arm hair and nipple hair, hair – mountain man beard, huge heads of hair, profound pubic bushes, and I heard children and adults ask more than once, Did he make the clothes? This dazzlement is so great that the artist’s other obsession – our relation to a figure, the Other, in theoryspeak (a notion so long disdained in modern art) barely occurs to us before we wander out into the sunlight.

So I’m not entirely convinced that these sculptures do much emotional work – as I assume they are intended to – they didn’t move me, and the ideas of isolation, loneliness, fear, weariness, arrogance etc are muffled by the perfection of their vehicles’ carapaces – their hyper-reality. But perhaps that’s the case with any crowded show in a large gallery space, never a place conducive to contemplation.

(A friend says that just looking at the pictures here makes her feel queasy and unlikely to take her young kids along. So, queasiness or ickiness may well be the main feeling-reaction of onlookers.)

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Old woman in bed 2002

granny1

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A girl 2006

baby1

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Youth 2009

america

america_wound

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Woman with sticks 2008

twigs

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Still Life 2009

(the scale doesn’t read very well here; this is about oh a size 85 chicken; about 1.7m long from bound feet to beak)

chook1

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Hear/download a discussion on ABC RN, and see a gallery of images here.

The Age review here and Daany Katz for SMH here.

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  1. ...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ngv, kez. kez said: RT @ngv_melbourne: Ron Mueck on the Crikey blog yest: http://bit.ly/9bfuDo [...

  2. ...] Crickey Brooklyn Museum Wikipedia: Ron Mueck Boing Boing Gautier Deblonde Sculpture Life National Gallery [...

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