By Paul Gessell
Ottawa fell in love with Australian artist Ron Mueck in 2007, when 16 of his hyper-realistic sculptures of over-sized and under-sized people came to the National Gallery of Canada. In fact, more than 83,000 people came to the springtime show, compared with the 10,000 who normally attend contemporary art exhibitions at the gallery that time of year.
Ottawans adored the exhibition of fibreglass and silicon creations so much that two local wealthy art patrons F. Harvey Benoit and his wife, Lynne Freiburger-Benoit, gave the gallery $500,000 to help purchase one of Mueck’s sculptures in the exhibition, “A Girl.” This replica of an anatomically correct baby girl is almost five-metres-long, fresh out of the womb, and already defiant looking.
So, what has Mueck been up to since?
Well, during a recent visit to Mexico City, I stumbled upon a Ron Mueck exhibition at Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, an old palace-like college turned into an art museum. The line-up to get in was the equivalent of a few blocks long and this after being more than a month already in the city.
There are nine sculptures in the exhibition, including several that were in the Ottawa show. Remember “In Bed“? That seven-metre-long woman startled to be discovered lying abed. Or “Man in a Boat“? That undersized man looking lost in a rowboat. Mexico loves these, too. But the real crowd-pleasers are two works Mueck has done since the 2007 Ottawa exhibition.
The favourite, judging by the size of the crowd surrounding the sculpture, is not even a replica of a human but of a plucked chicken, about two metres long, suspended from the ceiling in a room filled with giant murals of religious paintings hundreds of years old. The sculpture is called “Still Life”. After viewing this monster, many a visitor undoubtedly swore off chicken tacos for good.
The other show-stopper is called “Drift”. This sculpture is of a man, about three-quarters the size of a real person, dressed in a bathing suit and resting upon an air mattress. The sculpture was plastered flat against the wall as if the man and his mattress were hung on a hook rather than floating in water. And the height of the sculpture was such you had to look up to see it. The man’s arms were outstretched like someone being crucified. Us mere mortals below were the witnesses to this bizarre crucifixion.
Practically every visitor had a camera and they were all busy snapping photos of the chicken and the man on the mattress.
The National Gallery of Canada owns such giant Mueck’s works as “A Girl” and “Head of a Baby“. Neither work was in the Mexico show.
The Ron Mueck show continues until February, 2012 in Mexico City at Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, located just a few blocks from the central zocalo at 16 Justo Sierra. The Spanish-language website for the museum is http://www.sanildefonso.org.mx.