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Ron mueck 2 Ron mueck 2 Document Transcript

  • Ron Mueck: the making of Pregnant woman 2002introduction | acquisition statement | biography | directors talk | education | conservationIt is a fundamental belief of mine that the history of art is a continuum. It is the story of theconstant search for creativity, finding new ways to give expression to the power of ideas inhuman imagination. These ideas are realised through our senses, and in true works of art, theyhave an effect on our emotions.Ron Mueck takes his place in the tradition of those who have tried to make objects which arevery real. Terms such as Super-Real and Hyper-Real have been used to describe those artistswho have attempted extreme verisimilitude. Ron Mueck seeks to achieve perfection, the precisedemonstration of reality as he finds it.Mueck’s work is always out of scale from reality. His figures are either oversized or undersized.They strive for super-realism, but there is a psychological confrontation between these twocontradictory realities, the effort to deceive by perfection, and the obvious discrepancy of scale.Ron Mueck’s work is sculpture. He does not make models, giant or tiny puppets. He employs allthe techniques of technological advance to create works of art.For quite a few years, the National Gallery of Australia has searched for a work by Ron Mueckwhich would be a major contribution to the collection of the National Gallery in his native country.He was born in Melbourne 44 years ago of German parents who had emigrated to Australia. Thelanguage of his boyhood home was German. His parents were toymakers, and Ron loved toassist in this enjoyable activity. Ron Mueck Pregnant woman 2002 fibreglass,He left Australia after school, moving to the west coast of the United States of America and then resin, silicone Purchased withto London, working in both places in the film and special effects industry. In particular, he worked the assistance of Tony andwith Jim Henson, the much revered maker of shows such as The Muppets. Mueck was Carol Berg 2003 © Ron Mueckespecially involved in the major Henson production, the film Labyrinth.Mueck’s move into a career as a practising artist came about in the mid 1990s after nearly 20 years in the special effectsindustry. He had married a daughter of the artist Paula Rego, who achieved considerable public attention when she becameartist-in-residence at the National Gallery, London, in Trafalgar Square.In 1996 Paula Rego wanted to make a painting about the story of Pinocchio, and she invited Mueck to make a model for her.The model happened to be seen by the entrepreneur and art collector, Charles Saatchi, and he was so impressed that heinvited Mueck to make a number of works for him on commission. One of these works, Dead dad, made Mueck’s reputation. Itwas featured in the controversial exhibition, Sensation, which featured works from the Saatchi collection, and was shown tohuge audiences at the Royal Academy in London.Dead dad was a hyper-realistic sculpture of Mueck’s dead father, naked, lying on the floor, so that you could easily trip over him,especially because he was only three feet long. This extraordinary work had huge emotional power, and many visitorsremembered it well. Mueck makes work very slowly, taking on average four weeks for each work, although Pregnant womantook much longer, being his most ambitious work to date. By 2002, when Pregnant woman was made, he had created only 30sculptures in total.More than anything, Mueck is a perfectionist, with a passionate and dedicated approach to verisimilitude.Among the works which gained Mueck his growing reputation was Angel, an undersized boy seated on a stool with two hugeangel wings, made from goose feathers. Mueck was inspired to create this work by the painting by Giambattista Tiepolo which isin the National Gallery, London, on the theme made famous by Handel, the Triumph of Virtue, Time and Truth.It is great that Pregnant woman is in close proximity to our work by Tiepolo [Marriage allegory (Marriage allegory of the Cornarofamily) c.1737–1747], whom Mueck so admired. Mueck is an intensely private man, never wishing to even be at his ownexhibition openings, but there is an intensity of engagement in his work which shows his strong interests. He enjoys music andoften has it playing in the background while he is making his work. He does not wish to tell us stories about his work, because itis for us to bring our stories to them.In 2000 Mueck’s massive Crouching boy, the size of a double decker bus, was perhaps the most laudable feature of theMillennium Dome created in London to mark that moment in date history. The work subsequently was shown in the first galleryof the Venice Biennale of 2001, where it created quite an impression along with a number of smaller Mueck works.
  • In mid 2002, I went to London to Muecks studio, taking Anna Gray (our Assistant Director of Australian Art) with me. I had been told by Mueck’s dealer, who knew of the National Gallery of Australia’s interest, that he was completing a major work on the theme of a pregnant woman. The work was extraordinary, the hairs at the time of our visit being punched individually into her head, books on pregnancy lying around the floor, especially near a mattress where the artist had sought some late night sleep during forays of art making into the early hours. There were other sculptures in the room but the giant scale of Pregnant woman was awe inspiring. At first she intimidated, and as with all objects which haveDetail of Pregnant woman showing the aspects of the grotesque about them, drew me further in while also causing me toprocess of inserting hair. Image still from feel cautious.Ron Mueck video © Ron Mueck Courtesyof the National Gallery, London After some time of being with the Pregnant woman, various thoughts came into my head, as I went through the artistic process of having been affected in myemotions, continuing to perceive with my senses, and beginning to explore the ideas evoked by the sculpture.Pregnant woman makes a powerful impact. For men of my vintage, it has been typical to be in attendance at the birth ofchildren. Not so for men of a previous generation. For women who have had children, lost children, had to cope with disability,or trials of pregnancy, so many thoughts can arise. This is a very emotional work to someone who has lived through challengingpregnancy, never been pregnant or failed to be pregnant. Mueck knows all this, and it is why I believe Pregnant woman willcontinue to be an important work into the future.In 2001 Mueck, like Paula Rego before him, was made an Associate Artist (the fifth) at the National Gallery, London. The twoyear post allows artists to make their own work in a studio provided on site, in the company of the marvellous Old Mastercollection of the National Gallery itself.While there, Mueck found himself not particularly engaged with the collection in terms of it making an impact on his own work.Its influence was more subtle, and he found that as he prepared for the exhibition which concludes the residency, he began tothink of new sculptures. The theme of the Mother and Child came through very strongly in the National Gallery’s collection, andMueck decided to explore this in a number of works. There are, however, no works of a pregnant Virgin Mary in the NationalGallery collection, although some exist in the history of European art. The theme of pregnancy became an obsession for RonMueck. This was the beginning of Pregnant woman.Mueck began the process of making a sculpture in the usual way for him. He madesome drawings, exploring the possibility of the pose, and decided on a weightbearing sculpture which would be standing erect, firmly planted on the ground, witharms raised over head. You can see some of these drawings in the adjacentgallery.It was important to me when we were acquiring Pregnant woman that we wouldengage with the practice of the National Gallery of Australia collection of havingsupplementary material to inform our major works of art. Mueck readily agreed togive us some drawings and models for his sculpture, but also decisively, althoughthis clearly had some impact on the price, to agree that there would only be oneversion of Pregnant woman. Ron Mueck in the studio working on the maquette for Pregnant Woman Image stillOn occasion Mueck has made a second work, but the only version of Pregnant from Ron Mueck video © Ron Mueckwoman exists here at the National Gallery of Australia. This was vital to me Courtesy of the National Gallery, Londonbecause our collection here has some extraordinary works, which are singular inthe careers of their artists. These include Willem de Kooning’s Woman V, Jackson Pollock’s Blue poles: Number 11, 1952 , theextraordinary Standing nude by Amedeo Modigliani, Paul Cézanne’s Afternoon in Naples, David Hockney’s A Bigger GrandCanyon and Lucian Freud’s After Cézanne, among others.In my opinion, Pregnant woman has a similar sort of role in Mueck’s own career. It was after making some small plastermaquettes, each of which is about 15 centimetres in height, that Mueck decided to make his pregnant woman a giant. One day,while in the café of the National Gallery, he noticed a pregnant woman with her eyes closed, lost in her own thoughts, butallowing the viewer to contemplate the subject of her pregnancy.Mueck decided that his sculpture would also have her eyes closed, having her privacy, and allowing us to reflect upon herpregnancy, while feeling somewhat less awkward about it, given her nakedness. The eyes in Dead dad were also closed.Difficult subjects like death and pregnancy are more difficult to address when eyes meet.
  • Mueck tested his decision to sculpt a figure which was much larger than life size by making three large drawings, each adifferent height. These he fixed to the wall of the room where the sculpture would be displayed in the National Gallery. Hedecided that the figure should be about 2.5 metres tall. Mueck then made a large maquette to explore further the positioning of the hands, and he also added the closed eyes to give the wondrous effect of exhaustion. The work is a turning point in Mueck’s career, because where in the past he has used models irregularly, and not for long because they cannot hold the intensity of the poses which he requires, in the case of Pregnant woman he worked closely with a model from her sixth month to the final week of her pregnancy. He used photographs and anatomical text books, as before, but in this case also he employed intense scrutiny of the model. Pregnant woman is presented to us at full term. Mueck began working on a large clay sculpture, and this became the model for theRon Mueck working with the fibreglass andresin moulds for Pregnant woman Image final mould which he would make. He began the mould by making the figure fromstill from Ron Mueck video © Ron Mueck chicken wire. He attached scrim, or bandaging soaked in plaster, to it. He addedCourtesy of the National Gallery, London the clay meticulously and slowly, scraping and smoothing the surface as necessary. Slowly he built up all the details, defining them, for example makinggooseflesh by dabbing on clay and smoothing it down. He then applied a layer of shellac varnish, because this preventscracking during the taking of the mould.Technical assistants helped him to make the mould in separate sections, concealing the join lines because in the first stage,silicone rubber can take even the smallest details. The silicone layer was applied to the mould by placing towelling on it, thenfibreglass and resin. The fibreglass layer was coloured blue to distinguish it from the silicone lining. During all of this process,Mueck has to use safety equipment, including a special mask, because these are hazardous materials.He then made a wooden frame, and attached it to the mould with metal brackets. Finally the mould was taken off after severalhours, and the clay sculpture removed, destroying it in the process. Unfortunately, the mould only came away after much of theclay head was cut out. Any silicone or shellac which was still fixed to the inside of the mould was washed away later. Mueckthen painted coloured resin on the inside of the silicone mould. This gave the colour to, for example, the ankles, elbows, toesand fingers, skin and fingernails. A thicker layer of resin then helped to hide the manner in which the sculpture had beencoloured and fixed together.Mueck made a number of test fingers, in order to see how the flesh colour wasworking, because he was attempting to gain the most realistic result. He thenapplied fibreglass over the dried coat of silicone, and then more resin, all the timeseeking to make the sculpture stronger. The mould was then completely filled withfibreglass which was coloured so as to give the flesh tone, except for the face, forwhich a decision had been made to separately cast it out.The reason for the face being silicone where the rest of the figure is fibreglass, isbecause silicone, being soft and rubbery, allows the hairs to be punched inseparately, giving the impression that they have grown through the scalp, whereasthe hair of the pubic region has been glued on because fibreglass is so hard. Painted fingers for Pregnant womanThe mould was allowed to set, which takes hours, and Mueck in fact allowed a day showing the detail given to every vein,for the process. It needs to be just long enough, otherwise the mould becomes blemish and nail. Image still from Ronbrittle. The breaking of the mould was one of the most difficult stages. When the Mueck video © Ron Mueck Courtesy of thefigure emerged, the excess resin was rubbed off and any damage retouched with National Gallery, Londonacrylic paint. Then began the process of creating the details, painting on the veins,blemishes, hair follicles, moles, wrinkles, nails, and so on.In order to make the face, a separate plaster mould had to be made, and then a cast taken. The final challenge was to attachthe silicone face to the fibreglass sculpture. This was an especially tense moment and all signs of attachment were hidden bypaint.When the cast figure came out of the mould, it was shiny, but a coat of matt varnish dealt with this issue. The application of thehair was a slow process, Mueck constantly working for maximum realism. The sculpture seems to belie the months of work thatwent into it, presenting almost like a ready made piece, but this sort of realism is impossible without extraordinary technique.Mueck’s Pregnant woman is weighed down by her pregnancy. She is noble and burdened. In many respects I see her as asecular Madonna. She addresses a taboo in our society, where 2000 years from the mysterious birth of Jesus which gave rise
  • to our current system of counting the years, many in our society still find pregnancy a subject which should be retained as aprivate one.Pregnant woman is for me a hymn to the beauty of the life-giving which is shared so personally only by mothers. Pregnantwoman is surely one of the most fascinating images of maternity. She has been much praised by critics, in England and here inAustralia. I am delighted that she is presented at the National Gallery of Australia in the company of other marvellous works ofthe Western figurative tradition in painting and sculpture.Pregnant woman, it has been suggested, is the most expensive work of art ever acquired from a living Australian artist, but, ofcourse, Mueck is not so much an Australian artist, as an international artist who was born in Australia. He is indeed proud thatthis major work is here, and made a visit to us to see the context in which it would be placed. I explained to him that it was ourintention to seek to show her from behind, as he wished.After we acquired the work in 2002, while it was on show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, and she then travelledas part of a touring show to the National Gallery, London, the National Gallery in Berlin, and the Frans Hals Museum inHaarlem, and she was never shown in the way the artist desired. Approaching her in the National Gallery, we see her frombehind. We see her massive frame, but do not realise she is pregnant. She is surrounded by works of art which have been acquired with the support of benefactors of the National Gallery of Australia. James Fairfax helped us to buy the Cologne Triptych, in which on the left panel St Helen of the True Cross has the medieval signature bump at her tummy showing that she is capable of being fertile. This is also true of St Margaret on the right-hand panel of the triptych. David Coe, John Schaeffer, Kerry Stokes and an anonymous benefactor, helped us to buy the Freud painting, After Cézanne, which also traverses the subject of nudity and the psychological interplay that figuration evokes in the hands of a powerful painter. The Giordano [Il ratto delle Sabine (The rape of the Sabine women)] with its wonderful female figure, shown in classic Baroque swirling, corkscrew pose, was acquired with the support of Philip Bacon.Ron Mueck Pregnant woman 2002 (detail) The painting of figures rushing through the street of Spitalfields, London in thefibreglass, resin, silicone Image still fromRon Mueck video © Ron Mueck Courtesy Kossoff [Christ Church Spitalfields, Summer] was supported by Geoff and Vickiof the National Gallery, London Ainsworth.Tony and Carol Berg, who have led the Gallery’s Foundation to our great success, in support of works which we have proposedto them, personally supported the acquisition of the Mueck.We have an extraordinary collection in Canberra. I have in the past been reluctant to talk too much about the works we haveacquired, preferring to allow viewers to give their own opinions. I do not wish my views to dictate yours, but I have to say that Iam delighted she is here. She now belongs to each of you, in your National Gallery. Brian Kennedy Director National Gallery of Australia 1997–2004 23 March 2004