The hyper-real sculpture of Ron Mueck
February 6, 2007 10:38 PM   Subscribe

Day late and a dollar short filter: We all just missed a great show at the Brooklyn Museum, namely the hyper-realistic works by sculptor Ron Mueck. Mueck specializes in life-like castings of people in non-life-sized dimensions ranging from the huge to the very small. (Some links NSFW) (More inside)
posted by grapefruitmoon (40 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
More here, here (video), here, and here.

Also: Coming soon to The National Gallery of Canada!

Serendipity Filter: Mueck is mentioned on the blog of Margaux Lange, linked moments ago on this post by nickyskye. Also via Neil Gaiman
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:38 PM on February 6, 2007

Random thought: The baby in this work looks like a miniature Frank Sinatra. (NSFW)
posted by amyms at 10:45 PM on February 6, 2007

Saw some small bit of Mueck's work a few years ago at a local gallery. Scary realistic/odd/cool/fun stuff. The pictures do not convey the reality of the work.
posted by arse_hat at 10:53 PM on February 6, 2007

Previously. Interesting work.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:56 PM on February 6, 2007

hate to be an arse_hat, but i think this is a double. hold on a sec...
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:57 PM on February 6, 2007

ah! pando is a bigger arse_hat than me. good to see.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:58 PM on February 6, 2007

A lot of these links are new and specific to the Brooklyn Museum show, but if this goes down the MetaToilet, I suppose such is the way of life.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:06 PM on February 6, 2007

Whoa - serendipity indeed. I was just looking at those on nickyskye's post. Cool stuff.
posted by vronsky at 11:14 PM on February 6, 2007

Great post! Lot's of great background reading and interviews here in addition to the images. On a side note, pretty sad commentary on our culture when a work of art depicting a woman and her new-born infant is NSFW. Not complaining about the tag, just the need for it.
posted by sluglicker at 11:21 PM on February 6, 2007

I've come across Mueck's work before and find it fascinating. I think it works, in part, because figures that are almost real are quite disturbing.

His sculpture perfectly (perhaps beautifully) exemplifies Masahiro Mori's Uncanny Valley theory.
posted by aladfar at 12:29 AM on February 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Y'know, I was about 1/4 of the way through putting together an FPP on Mueck a few days back, then ran a search and saw mjj's post (see previously, upthread) and decided not to. But I'm with you, grapefruitmoon, there are plenty of new links here in your post, so even though I declined doing an FPP myself due to doubles issues, I hereby cast my vote to keep this thread alive.


(oh, and Mueck's stuff: Wow! Sure would love to see it, er, in the flesh... The enormity! The humanity!)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:00 AM on February 7, 2007

his stuff is fantastic, i saw the exhibition here and it blew my mind to be honest ,,
posted by burr1545 at 2:53 AM on February 7, 2007

The work is oddly compelling, up to and including the fact that I get the feeling that baby is going to eat me.

Contrast this with Body Worlds and other exhibits of its type, where real bodies are treated, taken apart, posed, and displayed, for what is alternatively called "science" and "art." I have seen the Body Worlds exibit, and found it lacking in both science and art, but full of exhibitionism.

I raise this contrast as both have a claim to realism regarding the human body, and both claim to capitalize on this realism to encourage thought regarding our humanity.

Which is more compelling? I haven't even seen this Mueck work in person, yet through images I've seen I find it far outstrips the artistic and thought generating value of the Body Worlds exhibit, and does so without the controversy of where the bodies came from. Moreover, I have often failed to see the added scientific value of Body Worlds type exhibits over any of a million sources for anatomy information, not all of which is boring.

So why then is Body Worlds out there for extended science museum visits and raking in the cash while relatively few have seen Mueck? In my humble opinion, it is because the sideshow is alive and well, and it isn't in Coney Island or random state fairs.

Too bad - I'd like to see Mueck travel so far and wide.
posted by Muddler at 3:56 AM on February 7, 2007

Sadly, when the end of the brilliant Mueck show collided with the end of the popular Annie Liebowitz exhibition at the Brooklyn Art Museum - the result was flipping chaos for visitors.

One of the worst, frustrated scrums of museum goers I've ever seen - kind of wrecked the point of being at a museum, simply because there was no attempt to control the overflow - give out information etc.

Hard to get in an appreciative frame of mind when you're being shoved off your feet and elbowed in the stomach!

The problem was picked up on by the terrific Manhattan User Guide website - one of the best daily guides to NY events: From MUG: "The Brooklyn Museum owes a lot of New Yorkers and visitors to the city an apology.

We're glad the museum had a big hit with the Annie Leibovitz exhibit, which closed yesterday. But they can't have been surprised that the last weekend would see a surge in attendance (or should the word be 'augmentation'?), so there's really no excuse for what they made their guests endure...."

posted by Jody Tresidder at 4:00 AM on February 7, 2007

It's uncanny here in the valley.
posted by punkfloyd at 4:35 AM on February 7, 2007

Damn! That big baby is one of the most impressive things I've seen in ages!
A most excellent post, grapefruitmoon! Thank you!
If you don't mind, I'll accept this post as a birthday present. It's perfect!
posted by Thorzdad at 4:40 AM on February 7, 2007

Jody Tresidder: Sadly, when the end of the brilliant Mueck show collided with the end of the popular Annie Liebowitz exhibition at the Brooklyn Art Museum - the result was flipping chaos for visitors.

My friends and I (who came in from NJ for the Mueck exhibit, not the Leibowitz photos!) got stuck in that mess. Thirty minutes to get in the museum, another thirty to take the single elevator to the fifth floor where both Mueck and Leibowitz were (all the stairways were blocked off) and a forty-five minute wait once there to get into the Leibowitz. At that point we figured that we'd opt for looking at the Leibowitz photos in a book or something, and spent a good while looking at Mueck's stuff.

One of the most amazing things about those sculptures are the details of the hair and skin--uneven skin tones, veins running beneath, and so on. A couple of the nudes have facial expressions of discomfort, as if they don't like being stared at so closely.
posted by Prospero at 5:03 AM on February 7, 2007

I managed to catch it on a not-crazy day, and spent a long time there even though the exhibit was relatively small (in number of pieces, if not physical size.) If you ever get the chance, definitely check out his work in person. At times I had a sense that I'd caught real people in some moment I shouldn't have been present for.
posted by sonofslim at 5:16 AM on February 7, 2007

My first thought was to wonder why he isn't working in movies and special effects. Turns out he has.

a former puppet maker and model maker who worked with Jim Henson
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:19 AM on February 7, 2007

Muppet Wiki on Mueck.
posted by phooky at 6:18 AM on February 7, 2007

I actually got a chance to see the show at the Brooklyn Museum twice! Part of the exhibit was a looped video describing his process and I found it fascinating. Very happy to see the museum posted it in its entirety on their website here (also found by following the OP's first link).
posted by funkiwan at 6:27 AM on February 7, 2007

I saw this a while ago in Brooklyn - I think it was before Christmas. The Liebowitz show was in full swing when I was there too - I think 'flipping chaos' is a good explanation. So the crowds and overlapping shows have been a problem at that museum for months.

I spent a good amount of time looking at the Mueck work -- my friend was spending waaay too much time with the photographs. Not too sound to pretentious, but I think that Mueck did a better job of what I look for in photography than Liebowitz - capturing honest and unexpected impressions of people.

I swear I'd seen some of his work before somewhere, but can't find any coincidence in his listed exhibitions.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 6:33 AM on February 7, 2007

I saw it on a quiet day. Been a big fan since I saw his work at the Hirshhorn in DC a few years back.

Now if only the multi-block outdoor Botero sculpture installation would come back into town. Those were great, though they're prolly halfway around the world by now.
posted by breezeway at 6:39 AM on February 7, 2007

I wish they would bring more exhibits like this to my city. Or that I had the time/money, to travel and visit them.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 6:40 AM on February 7, 2007

I didn't miss it.
posted by dame at 7:29 AM on February 7, 2007

Does anybody know if he's responsible for the guy on the cover of the February issue of Discover magazine? I haven't clicked all the links in this post (as I'm at work, and they're labeled NSFW) to see if there's a match, but the one I did investigate looked like a similar style.
posted by vytae at 8:06 AM on February 7, 2007

His fat man huddling in the corner made it on the cover of the latest Newsweek regarding obesity in America. I came across it while on a coffee data at Borders and my date was like 'what a hideous person'. I was pretty sure that it was a sculpture but had to look it up in the contents to be sure. The rest of these are really impressive.
posted by daHIFI at 8:07 AM on February 7, 2007

Ahh, daHIFI, I think we're talking about the same thing. It was definitely on Discover, I'm not sure about Newsweek.
posted by vytae at 8:08 AM on February 7, 2007

Yes, the big dude in the corner has been on newsstands for a couple magazines as of late. I recognized it from early mefi postings...
posted by rsanheim at 8:27 AM on February 7, 2007

Moreover, I have often failed to see the added scientific value of Body Worlds type exhibits over any of a million sources for anatomy information,

Body Worlds not informative? are you kidding? I know there are serious ethical issues about aquisition of cadavers, as has been the case in the past with medical school subjects, but to compare that exhibit to slimgoodbody is to misunderstand its value. Body Worlds was not about public health. That said, i wouldn't've gone had i known about the issues, and it did spook me that the majority of the bodies displayed were asian.

As an art exhibit, it was all about the internal pieces themselves--it did have very little to say about humans in a social context, and failed through its inability to address the creepiness factor in the presentation--it was almost purposefully misanthropic, like an alienated surgeon. Thus it was more easily presented as a "science" exhibit.

Mueck's work, among others, is more about social context, with recognizable expressions designed to evoke a social response, and so more "art."
posted by eustatic at 10:08 AM on February 7, 2007

Ron Mueck's work is awesome. Great post. It's fascinating to look closely at those images, a sort of frozen moment in time and be able to really look, really see the faces and bodies. Something so intense about it.
posted by nickyskye at 10:12 AM on February 7, 2007

I'm booking a plane ticket to Ottawa. I want to see Mueck's work in person. I've seen shots of it before this, but nothing as well-compiled as this FPP. Thanks to grapefruitmoon!
posted by Quiplash at 10:38 AM on February 7, 2007

thank you for the video link grapefruitmoon. watching mueck's process is a marvel to behold, just like his finished pieces.
posted by cazoo at 10:46 AM on February 7, 2007

Eustatic I don't want to drive this into a debate on Body Worlds, but I will say that I put up Slim as more of a joke than anything - although it is anatomy entertainment (Anatotainment?) Like Cobert, if that word catches on, I want royalties.

Body Worlds just didn't educate me that much. I could see similar anatomy in many science museums, and I guess I have been exposed to a lot of anatomy through education - disections, books, videos, etc. I just didn't see the special point in the exhibit as far as science goes, but I know that many, many people haven't been exposed to anatomy and won't go out of their way to see such things in the human body without such an exhibit - in that sense it was for the masses.

I just find work like Mueck's to be much more stimulating, and I wish it were as popular as Anatotainment.
posted by Muddler at 12:03 PM on February 7, 2007

I must say, I intentionally missed this show. The Mueck I saw in DC a year or two ago was enough for me.
posted by nevers at 12:29 PM on February 7, 2007

What dame said.

What we found most affecting was the tension between the show's manifest success and the (yes) uncanny impression that most of the figures wanted nothing more than to be left alone. Part of me - a really deep and elemental part - felt called upon to respect that.

And that whole trope about how the museum owes its visitors an apology because it was crowded? I call bullshit on that. So we had to wait a little bit, and in the process witness what public interest in great contemporary art looks like. I fail to see where the offense lies.

Folks should try to make their way through the herds of moocows lowing around Christina's World sometime if they want to know what annoying is, dang...
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:46 PM on February 7, 2007

what a great show... i loved the little guy in the boat. brooklyn museum of art is wonderful... i wish our new fancy walker art center was half as inviting.
posted by specialk420 at 7:20 PM on February 7, 2007

I saw some Mueck stuff in London a few years ago, and, really & truly, photographs just don't do it justice (an expression I often hear but seldom agree with).
posted by Bugbread at 10:40 PM on February 7, 2007

I'm pretty suspicious of Mueck's work. Dead Dad was shocking and intriguing at the time and in the context it was shown, but really he's just making glorified muppets - check the underbites and out-of-scale heads - and all the ooh-ing and ah-ing seems to stem from his unbelievable level of skill, which he basically blinds us with. ie. he extracts an immediate emotional response because the things look real, or hyper-real, and the scale trick is immediately arresting, but I think that fades the moment you step out of the gallery. I suppose that's interesting in itself, but when I saw this show during its run at the Royal Scottish Academy, I felt I'd been duped (self-link to a review of the show) by a skilled trickster - the work is ultimately empty.

So, yeah, I'll stick with Duane Hanson's human vignettes when I fancy some real-real people sculpure, and cock-nosed Chapman mutants when I fancy some hyper-real people sculpture.

See also: Jonathon Jones having a bit of fun wondering whether Mueck is a hoax.
posted by jack_mo at 3:08 AM on February 8, 2007

Some of us didn't miss the show. Some of us saw it when it was at the Fondation Cartier in Paris in November 2005.
posted by Hogshead at 3:53 PM on February 8, 2007

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