Size Matters: Ron Mueck

Mueck's work can transport the viewer into Alice's Wonderland

Article by Morven Innes | 14 Aug 2006

Ron Mueck can do funny things to a person. Not many artists create work that makes its viewers both get up close, and creep around the edges of a room so as not to disturb it. Mueck's sculptures do both.

The pieces have common features: all the sculptures are of humans, they all feature the minute detail of the body and they are all hyper-realistic. Essentially, then, they're just extremely life-like sculptures of people. Why is this unsettling? It's their size. None of the pieces are life-size, although they are deceivably real to look at in every other sense, the effect being that they look just that bit wrong.

The subjects have been caught in a particular moment, their faces and bodies captured as if life had just been paused at random. They do not seem posed, or ready to be observed, simply stopped in a situation.

A man and woman (Spooning Couple, 2005) lie next to each other, partly dressed, evidently tense and unhappy. All the lines, folds and marks on their bodies have been painstakingly created, their imperfections vital to the resonance of the piece. They are not an attractive couple, but there is something beautiful and humbling about being permitted to witness such a personal moment between two such vulnerable characters. They are also only 65 centimetres long. At first, the viewer keeps his distance from the piece, as though unwilling to disturb this moment, however as one rationalises that it is only a sculpture, he can move closer and examine the intricacies of the figures – each hair perfectly placed, the patches of tonal variation on the skin stunningly real and yet blatantly not.

Mueck's work can transport the viewer into Alice's Wonderland. The experience of being dwarfed by wild men and babies in one room and towering over adult couples in the next means that the viewer constantly has to flick between realities. It allows us to see humanity up close: not beautiful or magical in its forms, but fascinating and provocative.

Royal Scottish Academy Building Ð National Gallery £6 (£4), 5Aug-1 Oct,