HAPPENINGText: Tim Spear

The National Gallery in the heart of London’s Trafalgar square has been running an ‘associate artist’ scheme since 1990, whereby a respected artist is invited to work in the gallery itself and produce work in response to the gallery’s collection. The most recent of the associate artists is sculptor Ron Mueck, who first came to prominence with his sculpture ‘Dead Dad’ which was shown at the ‘Sensation‘ exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1997.

With a background in special effects production, Mueck’s work consists of sculptures of the body, rendered in silicone and fibreglass. The figures are made to such a degree of realism that they become almost indistinguishable from a real figure, the only difference being that they are radically different in scale.

Ron Mueck, Swaddled Baby, 2002, Mixed media, 18.4 x 21.5 x 49.5 cm

Mueck has produced 4 new works for this exhibition which revolve loosely around the theme of birth and motherhood. As you follow the trail of the show, the process of childbirth is presented in reverse. The exhibition opens with ‘Swaddled Baby’, a small floor based figure of a baby in swaddling clothes, lying on a pillow. Of all the works this is the only one in scale. Mueck is reported to have been struck by how many of the artists in the gallery have depicted the infant Christ as an unrealistic baby. Mueck’s baby is lifelike in every detail, his infant Christ is tangible, a fragile new life with its uncertain future before it.

Ron Mueck, Mother and Child, 2001-2003, Mixed media, 24 x 89 x 30 cm

Moving into the gallery proper, next on show is ‘Mother and Child’, a 89 cm long sculpture of a mother and her baby seconds after giving birth. The baby lies in its foetal position on the deflated stomach of the mother, who looks at her newborn with a contemplative gaze. The realism of the figure is alarming, the hair is rough and sweaty from the exertion of childbirth, the skin coloured perfectly.

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Ricky Powell