Tipping the Scales

By Shaw, Kurt | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 6, 2008 | Go to article overview

Tipping the Scales


Shaw, Kurt, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Many of Ron Mueck's sculptures on display at The Andy Warhol Museum are larger than life, but oh so palpably real.

Hyper-realistic versions of humans being human, they are intense copies of ourselves, right down to the pores of the skin.

Filling four of the seven floors of the museum, "Ron Mueck at The Andy Warhol Museum" features seven of the artist's realistic human sculptures including: "In Bed" (2005) a giant sculpture of a woman lying in bed; "A Girl" (2006), a vast sculpture of a newborn baby; "Wild Man" (2005), a nine-foot sculpture of a naked, bearded man; "Spooning Couple" (2005), a miniature sculpture of a couple lying together on a bed; "Man in a Boat" (2002) a naked man sitting in a life-size wooden rowing boat; Ron Mueck's self-portrait, "Mask II" (2001-02); and "Mask III" (2005), a large portrait of a black woman.

The dream-like quality of many of his sculptures is enhanced by his mastery of his medium, combined with a profound knowledge of anatomy.

So much so that Thomas Sokolowski, director of The Andy Warhol Museum, says Mueck's work ranges between pop and high art. "If the sculptures share anything -- elderly, middle age, baby -- it's the human condition," he says.

Perhaps no piece sums that up more than "In Bed." A massive construction in fiberglass and silicone, it features a woman lying in a bed all of 21 feet long. Captured in a wayward glance, her hand is held to her face, signifying a mysterious apprehension. It's an emotionally intense moment rendered on a monumental scale. So real, one might expect to hear an exasperated breath rushing out of her giant nostrils at any moment.

Although much attention is dutifully paid to the expression of his figures, Mueck's work is even more palpably real when it comes to the most minute details of flesh, hair and nails, all of which is captured in silicone, cast from preliminary models, which is then painstakingly painted with details like veins and wrinkles, then drilled or punched with thousands of tiny individual holes -- to serve as pores, to which are added thin, small hairs.

In "Man in a Boat," for example, a two-foot-tall naked man sits in the front of a life-size wooden rowing boat. Arms folded, he looks forward as though questioning what lies ahead. But more remarkable than his inquisitive expression, is the level of detail on his body.

Even at such a small scale (something that Mueck consistently plays with, but never at actual size), one can see every finger and toenail to exacting, realistic detail. Even the subtle wrinkling of the skin below the ankle of his slightly up-turned right foot can be seen if you turn your head just right to catch the light reflecting off of the figure's life-like synthetic skin.

"A Girl" is another incredibly detailed example. A 16-foot-long sculpture of a newborn, it is covered in glistening blood and mucus (synthetic, of course), an obvious indication of the subject's condition, that and the translucent remnant of an umbilical cord. …

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