Ron Mueck, dark and enigmatic

Paris. As Hervé Chandès, artistic director general of the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain reminds us, this is not the first, but the third exhibition devoted to Ron Mueck in the building on boulevard Raspail. “A conversation has been going on for more than twenty years between Ron Mueck and the Foundation”, he explains. In 2005, the institution had presented to the French public, who at the time discovered it, five sculptures made specially. Then in 2013, by bringing together nearly ten pieces, including three unpublished, accompanied by a documentary on the Australian sculptor, it had reached, with more than 300,000 visitors, attendance records. In all, the Cartier Foundation will have exhibited more than a third of the visual artist’s creations, some of which for the first time. It should be noted that his corpus, since its beginnings in 1996, has only 48 works: Ron Mueck (born in 1958) has the reputation of being a solitary worker, occasionally helped by rare assistants. Located on the Isle of Wight (England), his workshop receives few visits. This artist in withdrawal is invariably assisted by Charlie Clarke, associate curator of the exhibition, who supervises his projects all over the world without giving any further explanations on this enigmatic work.

An XXL Vanity

mass (2017), the installation presented on the ground floor of the glass building, from where it is visible from the street, has just arrived from the National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne), which commissioned it for its Triennale . This piece of spectacular size is made to impress: a landslide of a hundred huge skulls forms an XXL vanity that overlooks the visitor, who finds himself not only immersed but encompassed in this accumulation, according to an inverted ratio of scale. This memento mori, which combines monumentality and hyperrealism, seems to refer less to the transitory aspect of our human existence than to an surrounding disaster that is beyond us. With mass, his greatest achievement to date, Ron Mueck also changes direction. Until now, the sculptor had endeavored to represent the human being in his individuality. He cloned into the material every detail of hairiness and skin texture, every expression wrinkle, a process whose A Girl (2006), a gigantic newborn still bloodied lying in the adjoining room, offers a striking example. Nobody will want to exclaim “what a beautiful baby!” in front of this creature with contracted features and fists. mass, as its title suggests, does not dwell on particularity. Nor does the work refer to the suffering evoked, for example, by the raw flesh in Francis Bacon’s paintings. Perfectly cured, sanitized, Ron Mueck’s skulls on the contrary become almost abstract, reduced to simple patterns. It is a commensurate monument to general insensitivity. And in a way, an acknowledgment of failure for the artist to still be able to move, he whose astonishing technical skill has always aroused the enthusiasm of the public.

Untitled (Three Dogs) (2023), the other major and original room, is in the basement, which does not benefit from the natural light of the ground floor. It is a group representing three huge dogs camped on their paws, eying the visitor. On their guard, these colossi seem, by their attitude, to threaten us. Here too, and unlike Man in a Boat (2002), at the end of the journey, the artist’s maniacal realism gives way to a more classical work of sculpture. The gesture smooths the form, even though the expression of these dogs of Hades surprises by their humanity. The canine figure also obsesses the visual artist, says Hervé Chandès, according to whom this sculpture had been in the works for ten years. In the artist’s studio, models on this subject abound, in more or less disturbing versions.

It is still violence that is suggested by the small-scale sculpture This Little Piggy (2023). This work in progress, which the artist has agreed to exhibit in its incomplete state, shows a group of anonymous men united in their efforts to hold down a pig in order to put it to death. Ironically, Ron Mueck’s gaze on his fellows (see Couple Under An UmbrellaOr Woman with Shopping, two works exhibited in 2013) has never been particularly tender. Now he becomes fierce. The disenchantment and derision perceptible in these sagging bodies, these unattractive flesh, in these portraits so similar to human beings in our image, has given way to a more bitter, more brutal point of view. In this Ron Mueck undoubtedly remains in tune with his time.

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