Reference in hyperrealism Ron Mueck arrives in Milan

Following Siamo Foresta, an exhibition sponsored by the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain bringing to the Triennale an outstanding range of indigenous works from the Amazon basin – along with works by authors who have been inspired by the aesthetics and politics surrounding the world’s most famous forest -, the French institution returns to Milan, this time holding the first exhibition in Italy dedicated to the Australian artist Ron Mueck.

Born in Melbourne in 1958, he is probably the world’s best-known contemporary hyper-realist sculptor, whose work on the human anatomy and its manifestations has overtaken the memorable works of American artists John De Andrea, Duane Hanson, Chuck Close and Richard Estes, all of whom became giants of this genre with their contribution to the legendary documenta 5, curated in 1972 in Kassel by Harald Szeemann.

Curiously, the most impressive aspect – especially today, in an age of technological frenzy, when images have been shrunk to the size of a mobile phone screen – is the clash between the human scale and the sheer proportion of Mueck’s works: consistently out of proportion, up or down compared to reality, the terrifying details resulting from the refined execution, the figures the artist creates profoundly affect our perception, opening the gates to a disturbing condition of otherness.

Curated by Hervé Chandès, Fondation Cartier’s international director, we are instantly greeted by one of the pivotal works of Mueck’s career: the vast woman lying in her bed (In Bed, 2005), meditating and without any make-up, her knees raised under the white blanket, wondering what, or who?

And our imagination takes flight, scrutinising her skin texture, the wrinkles in her hands, her lucid eyes. Ron Mueck’s process of making these figures beyond technical flawlessness is unveiled in two videos made by the Fondation Cartier over the course of ten years, shown as part of the exhibition: Still Life: Ron Mueck at Work (2013) and Three Dogs, a Pig and a Crow (2023), both directed by Gautier Deblonde.

But although the dimensionality element still works, both aggrandising and miniaturising, these rooms failed to convince given the lack of a magical quality in the expography that would broaden the surreal impression underpinning Mueck’s works, to make them more seductive, genuine gateways to other realms.

Except for the area housing Mass, a large installation of disproportionate skulls heaped up in 2017, a modern reminder of an environmentally important vanitas, the dialogue between the other works on show is missing: the small naked woman holding a handful of sticks in her arms (Woman With Sticks, 2009-2010) shares the floor with three large pitch black dogs (En garde, 2023), signalling a change of pace in the artist’s practice, as do two other miniatures: the struggle between a few men and a tied up pig about to be beheaded (This little pig, 2023) and the newborn baby (Baby, 2000) hanging on the wall, close to the figure of the crucified Christ.

Too short to be considered a retrospective and, at the same time, filled with standout-works, the exhibition is lacking a master key to make it more dynamic, even if the poetry of the simpler works is unmistakable, since – for those who have had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with Ron Mueck’s career – about half of the works on show in Milan had already been part of the superb project that Cartier dedicated to the Australian artist in the Foundation’s premises on Boulevard Raspail in Paris, ten years ago.

The Australian artist’s first exhibition in an Italian institution is being held at the Triennale until March 10, sponsored by the Fondation Cartier.

Matteo Bergamini is a journalist and art critic. He’s the Director of the Italian magazine and also a collaborator in the weekly journal D La Repubblica. Besides journalist he’s also the editor and curator of several books, such as Un Musée après, by the photographer Luca Gilli, Vanilla Edizioni, 2018; Francesca Alinovi (with Veronica Santi), by Postmedia books, 2019; Prisa Mata. Diario Marocchino, by Sartoria Editoriale, 2020. The lattest published book is L'involuzione del pensiero libero, 2021, also by Postmedia books. He’s the curator of the exhibitions Marcella Vanzo. To wake up the living, to wake up the dead, at Berengo Foundation, Venezia, 2019; Luca Gilli, Di-stanze, Museo Diocesano, Milan, 2018; Aldo Runfola, Galeria Michela Rizzo, Venezia, 2018, and the co-curator of the first, 2019 edition of BienNoLo, the peripheries biennial, in Milan. He’s a professor assistant in several Fine Arts Academies and specialized courses. Lives and works in Milan, Italy.

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