Master of Reality
Whether Lilliputian or Goliath in scale, Ron Mueck's über-realistic sculptures leave a lasting impression
From the Print Edition:
Richard Branson, Sept/Oct 2007
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The prospects of a private collector owning a Mueck are relatively slim since the artist has made just over 30 sculptures since 1996, turning out anywhere from two to four works a year. Anytime one of his coveted pieces appears on the open market, it's something of an event. One such sale occurred at cutting-edge auction house Phillips de Pury & Company in Manhattan in May 2005, when Mueck's Pinocchio from 1996, the one first shown at the Hayward Gallery with his mother-in-law's paintings, fetched a record $531,200. Saatchi was the seller, making yet another killing on his prescient investment.
Other sculptures by Mueck have recently sold privately in the million-dollar range, but the majority of his works are squirreled away in top museum and foundation collections, such as the twice life-size Untitled (Big Man) from 2000 at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and the 16-foot-long newborn, A Girl, from 2006 at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. (A Japanese museum had commissioned A Girl, but once officials there saw the graphic details of the blood-caked baby and partially cut umbilical cord, the museum passed on it and asked for a different work.)
"It makes Ron feel more secure and happy to have the work in museums," says his dealer, d'Offay, "and he's not somebody who's driven by the excitement of money or power or any of those things."
Critics have had a field day dissecting his work, especially his Lilliputian-like shifts in scale, comparing Mueck's creations to 1950s-style science fiction "B" movies such as The Amazing Shrinking Man and The Attack of the Forty-Foot Woman. Others have made reverential comparisons of his sculpture to Northern Renaissance altar pieces and late Roman portrait busts. Yet another dismissed the whole endeavor as "side show" freaks of nature.
Whatever the reaction, Mueck remains a box-office sensation with his conceptual manipulations of scale and magical renderings of the human form. Bowled over by his old-world skill and craftsmanship, both the cognoscenti as well as less sophisticated folks continue to be amazed at Mueck's family of man.
Judd Tully is the editor-at-large of Art & Auction magazine and writes frequently about the international art market and contemporary art trends for a number of publications.
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