Ron Mueck’s evocative sculptures unveiled at Triennale Milano
From December 5, 2023, to March 10, 2024, Triennale Milano and Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain proudly present the first solo exhibition in Italy by Australian artist Ron Mueck, featuring a selection of works never before exhibited in Italy. The Triennale exhibition is an evolution of the project held in Paris in the summer of 2023, conceived by Fondation Cartier in close collaboration with the artist, marking the third stage of an ongoing dialogue between Ron Mueck and the French institution, initiated in 2005 and continued in 2013.
The exhibition comprises six sculptures, including the monumental installation “Mass” (2017) from the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, displayed for the first time outside Australia. This project illustrates the latest developments in Mueck’s artistic practice, alongside iconic works created throughout his career. Also featured are two films by French photographer and director Gautier Deblonde.
Ron Mueck’s solo exhibition represents the seventh show organized within the eight-year partnership between Triennale Milano and Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain. These European institutions, characterized by a multidisciplinary approach, share a common vision of contemporary culture and artistic creation.
Ron Mueck’s work, born in Melbourne in 1958 and residing in the UK since 1986, evokes universal themes and has profoundly renewed contemporary figurative sculpture. To sculpt his prodigious and realistic characters, always of surprising dimensions, he spends months, sometimes years. In twenty-five years of activity, he has brought to life a total of 48 works, the most recent completed just before the opening of the exhibition at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris in June 2023. Mueck’s work, deeply mysterious and extremely genuine at the same time, often imbued with a surreal aura, invites reflection on one’s relationship with the body and, more broadly, confronts the very essence of existence.
The monumental “Mass” (2017) is the centerpiece of the exhibition and represents a milestone in Mueck’s career. Commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne, Australia), “Mass” is an installation composed of one hundred giant human skulls arranged by the artist in dialogue with the exhibition space. The installation offers a physical and psychological experience that captivates visitors and encourages them to reflect on fundamental aspects of human existence. The title hints at the various interpretations the work lends itself to. The English word “mass” can be associated with multiple meanings, from a “disorderly heap” to a “religious function,” serving as starting points for each observer’s personal experience with the artwork. The iconography of the skull itself is ambiguous, associated with the brevity of human life in art history and ubiquitous in popular culture. For Mueck, “The human skull is a complex object. A powerful, graphic icon that we recognize immediately. Familiar and exotic at the same time, the skull repels and fascinates simultaneously. It is impossible to ignore, demanding our attention at a subconscious level.” The skulls are presented in a group, a collective imposing itself on the viewer. In this way, “Mass” distinguishes itself from the artist’s previous works, which systematically depicted individuals in their uniqueness. “Mass” marks a turning point in Mueck’s career, expressing his desire to embrace new sculpting methods. The recent works exhibited in the show – “Mass” (2017), “En Garde” (2023), and “This Little Piggy” (2023 – ongoing) – demonstrate how the artist continues his exploration, gradually moving away from his initial artistic practice, which involved meticulously reproducing all the details of skin, hair, and clothing. While maintaining attention to sculpting forms, Mueck brings the observer closer to the essence of his work: the immediacy and resonance of the perceived presence of the artwork. “En Garde” (2023) and the work titled “This Little Piggy” (2023 – ongoing) show how this new approach allows the artist to open up to new subjects and explore larger sculptural groups with dynamic poses or movements.
“En Garde” (2023) is a spectacular and menacing group of dogs almost three meters tall. Here, the reduction of surface details in favor of concentrating on form and tension allows the immediacy of the initial approach to be maintained as the observer gets closer. The sculpture vividly reflects the uncertainty of the present and how the future might unfold.
“This Little Piggy” (2023 – ongoing) is a small-sized sculpture inspired by a passage from the novel “Pig Earth” (1979) by John Berger. It is the first time Mueck allows the public to see a work in progress. “This Little Piggy” reveals the presence of the artist’s hand manipulating raw clay while orchestrating the movements and tensions of this unusual large group of people working together towards a common goal.
“Baby” (2000) is a small-sized sculpture representing a newborn, inspired by an image from a medical book showing a baby held by the feet just moments after birth. In contrast to the post-mortem “Mass,” this small portrait of the early moments of life focuses attention on an intense subject. Inverting the original image and fixing the sculpture to the wall, the artist creates a cross-shaped form that invites contemplation as if it were a religious icon, marked by what appears, upon closer analysis, to be a mischievous expression.
“In Bed” (2005) is the gigantic representation of a woman lying in bed, with her head raised against the pillows. Despite its colossal size, the sculpture appears delicate and intimate. As always in Ron Mueck’s works, the oversized dimensions are central to the observer’s approach. In this case, the large size alters the perspective, creating a sense of closeness with a person whose thoughts seem to be directed elsewhere. “In Bed” has been part of the Fondation Cartier Collection since 2005.
“Woman with Sticks” (2009) depicts a woman whose back is bent under the strain of unspecified work, while her feet are firmly anchored to the ground, creating a dynamic position contrasting with the elegant irregularity of the sticks held between her arms. The softness of her skin is marked by sharp dry twigs, and the expression on her face seems to indicate concentration on her surroundings. The deliberately reduced size compared to reality gives the sculpture an unsettling strangeness, as if the observer is facing a physically present yet allegorical world. “Woman with Sticks” has been part of the Fondation Cartier Collection since 2013.
“Still Life: Ron Mueck at Work” (2013) and “Three Dogs, a Pig and a Crow” (2023) are two films by French photographer and director Gautier Deblonde, whose images capture the atmosphere of Mueck’s studio and his working method over the past twenty-five years. Shot in the artist’s studios and during sculpture installations for exhibitions and presentations, these films provide a rare insight into the creation of the works and their transformation into the finished pieces visible in the exhibition. These films were commissioned over time by Fondation Cartier to accompany Ron Mueck’s exhibitions.
In 2005, Fondation Cartier was the first French institution to host a solo exhibition by Ron Mueck, subsequently dedicating a more comprehensive exhibition to him in 2013. The exhibition was a great success with the Parisian audience at the time and was later presented in various institutional venues: Fundación PROA, Buenos Aires; Museu de Arte Moderno, Rio de Janeiro; Pinacoteca do Estado, São Paulo, Brazil. Following these two exhibitions, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain acquired some works by the artist.