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“DIRECTIONS–RON MUECK” BRINGS REALISTIC, STRONGLY PSYCHOLOGICAL SCULPTURE TO HIRSHHORN, JULY 18–OCT. 27

Wednesday, July 3, 2002

Press preview:
Wednesday, July 17, 10 a.m. – noon.
Refreshments.
Curatorial remarks at 10:30 a.m.
R.S.V.P. (202) 357-1618 x3

“Directions–Ron Mueck,” featuring four startlingly hyperrealistic, out-of-scale figures by the Australian-born, London-based artist (b. 1958), opens at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on Thursday, July 18 and continues through Oct. 27. The museum is located at Independence Avenue and Seventh Street S.W.

The exhibition is the artist’s first American museum solo show and marks the return of the popular “Untitled (Big Man)” (2000) from the Hirshhorn’s permanent collection. Also on view are sculptures of a miniature newborn and a colossal sleeping mask, as well as of a diminutive old woman in bed that has never been exhibited in the United States.

As part of the Smithsonian’s Thursday “Art Night” festivities on July 18, Sidney Lawrence, exhibition curator and Hirshhorn head of public affairs, will discuss Mueck’s (pronounced Mew-ick) sculpture in a gallery talk at 7 p.m. On Sunday, Sept. 22 at 3 p.m., curators Merry Foresta and Arthur Wheelock and critic Blake Gopnik will join Lawrence for a panel discussion titled “What is Realism?,” inspired by the artist’s work.

“Ron Mueck’s sculptures, though inanimate, seem alive—eyes are wet, vessels swell with blood, and you can almost feel the heat and breath emanating off the body,” says Lawrence. The skewed sizes of the figures give this realism a psychological edge, which, according to Lawrence, “stirs our imagination while grounding us in the physical world.”

Born in Melbourne, the artist has practiced his craft since childhood, when he fabricated his own playthings. Although never formally trained as an artist, Mueck continued to develop his considerable skills working as an animatronics technician and model maker for children’s television, motion picture special effects and the advertising industry first in Australia (from the late 1970s to mid-1980s) and then Great Britain (from the mid-1980s on).

Mueck turned to sculpture in the mid-1990s after making a half-size Pinocchio figure, which served as a model for the painter Paula Rego, his mother-in-law, and was displayed beside Rego’s Disney-inspired canvases in the exhibition “Spellbound: Art and Film” at the Hayward Gallery, London.

Among the first public exhibitions of the artist’s work was “Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection,” a 1997 London show also seen in New York, that included Mueck’s unforgiving “Dead Dad” (1997). More recently, Mueck created a 15-foot-high crouching “Boy” to fill the cavernous space of London’s Millennium Dome (2000); it reappeared at the multinational Arsenale section of the Venice Biennale in 2001. During the summer of that same year, Mueck first exhibited his work in the United States in a New York gallery.

Although the artist has largely relied on photographic sources, a current residency at the National Gallery in London has enabled him to work from live models. “Untitled (Big Man),” a hairless, glaring figure with ponderous rolls of blotchy skin, was a product of such a life study; other works have evolved differently. The alien-looking, wall-mounted “Untitled (Baby)” (2000) was influenced both by family experiences and devotional masterpieces in the National Gallery. “Mask II” (2001), measuring nearly 4 feet from chin to furrowed brow, is a self-portrait of the artist’s slumbering head on its side. “Untitled (Old Woman in Bed)” (2000) is Mueck’s poignant remembrance of the final days of his wife’s much loved grandmother.

The artist spends months modeling his figures in clay on armatures built from metal and chicken-wire to create forms which he eventually casts in fiberglass resin or silicon. Mueck completes a work by painting in specific details like blemishes, and adding elements such as resin eyeballs and strands of monofilament, which are drilled or punched individually into surfaces to represent eyelashes, eyebrows, stubble and hair.

The exhibition is made possible through the generosity of Robert Lehrman, Trellis Fund, the Cultural Affairs office of the Australian Embassy, and contributions to the Hirshhorn’s Annual Circle.

The Hirshhorn Museum’s hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., seven days a week (with hours extended to 8 p.m. on Thursdays through Aug. 29 as part of Smithsonian “Art Night”). By Metrorail, take the L’Enfant Plaza Metro stop, exit at Maryland Avenue and Seventh Street. Admission to the museum is free.

Programs and Events
All programs are free. For more information, call (202) 357-3235, ext. 117, or e-mail education@hmsg.si.edu., or consult the Web site at http://hirshhorn.si.edu.

Art Night Gallery Talk
Thursday, July 18 at 7 p.m.
With exhibition curator Sidney Lawrence. Meet at the Information Desk.

Art Explorers Workshop for Adults: Big Me, Little Me
Friday, Aug.16, 1–3 p.m.
View “Ron Mueck,” then join art therapist Kristrinah Talus-Ayala to create a clay self-portrait exploring your public and private self. Preregistration required. Call (202) 357-3235, ext. 117.

First Friday Gallery Talk: Big Man
Friday, Sept. 6, 12:30 p.m.
Education Program Director Linda Powell will discuss Mueck’s “Untitled (Big Man).” Meet at the Information Desk.

Issues in Art, a Forum: What is Realism?
Sunday, Sept. 22, 3–4 p.m.
A brief slide overview followed by a discussion among specialists and questions from the audience probes the simple — and complicated — issue of what constitutes realism in art. With Merry Foresta, senior curator for photography, International Art Museums Division, Smithsonian Institution; Arthur Wheelock, curator of northern Baroque painting, National Gallery of Art and professor of art history, University of Maryland; Blake Gopnik, chief art critic, The Washington Post; moderated by Sidney Lawrence, exhibition curator. Ring Auditorium.

Film: “Uncle Frank” (2002)
Thursday, Oct. 3 at 8 p.m.
Repeat screening Friday, Oct. 4 at 8 p.m.
The first project supported by Kevin Spacey’s production company involves one of the actor’s pet concerns–the dignity of the elderly–a topic Ron Mueck explores in “Untitled (Old Woman)” (2000). This biography is an homage to the spunkiness of an octogenarian who teaches himself piano so he can entertain on the nursing home circuit. Uncle Frank’s insights into his life, his wife and his love for his work are poignant, and often hilarious…not to mention his trip to Woodstock 2000. First-time feature director Matthew Ginsburg will discuss his film and his uncle at both screenings. Ring Auditorium.

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