Artist: Ron Mueck
The Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain invites Australian artist Ron Mueck to exhibit an ensemble of sculptures previously unseen in France, along with iconic pieces from his career. Visitors will discover his monumental installation Mass (2017), presented for the first-time outside Australia, as well as new work created especially for the occasion which illustrates recent evolution in Mueck's practice.
The artist’s third exhibition at the Fondation Cartier continues a dialogue which first introduced French audiences to his rare and highly anticipated work in 2005.
Exploring a new creative process
In its scale and ambition, the monumental installation Mass is the centrepiece of the exhibition and represents a milestone in the artist’s career. Commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne, Australia) in 2017, Mass comprises one hundred giant human skulls piled high and reconfigured by the artist for each venue. The installation offers a physical and psychological experience that captivates visitors and encourages them to reflect on fundamental aspects of human existence. The title alone provides a glimpse of the work’s diverse interpretations. The multiple meanings of the word “mass”, from disordered heap to formal religious ceremony, are starting points for each viewer’s personal encounter.
The iconography of the skull is itself ambiguous; associated with the brevity of human life in art history, and ubiquitous in popular culture. For Mueck, “The human skull is a complex object. A potent, graphic icon we recognise immediately. At once familiar and exotic, it repels and attracts simultaneously. It is impossible to ignore, demanding our attention at a subconscious level.”
The skulls are displayed as a group, an assembly of individuals imposed upon the visitor. In this way, Mass differs from the artist’s previous works, which systematically depict humans in their individuality. Also exhibited for the first time in France is Dead Weight (2021), a cast-iron skull weighing in at nearly two tons. In contrast with his typically naturalistic works, here traces of casting remain as the artist allows the raw nature of process and material to speak for themselves.
The exhibition will also unveil a spectacular new work created especially for the exhibition, a menacing group of large dogs. Mueck was already harboring the project of this piece during preparations for his 2013 solo show at the Fondation Cartier.
Focusing on form and presence
Mass marks a turning point in Mueck’s career, the expression of his desire to embrace new ways of sculpting. With Dead Weight and the new work unveiled in this exhibition, the artist continues the shift away from his previous practice of meticulously replicating every detail of skin, hair, and clothing. With no less attention to the sculpting of form, Mueck brings the viewer closer to the essence of his work: the immediacy and resonance of experiencing its presence.
This new approach also allows the artist to broaden the subject matter, to explore larger groups with a more dynamic tension or movement. A short film by French photographer Gautier Deblonde, shot in the artist’s studio and documenting the creation of his two latest works, will be shown on the Fondation Cartier’s digital platforms.
Three iconic works from the 2000s
Baby (2000), a tiny sculpture of a baby boy, was inspired by a medical textbook image showing a baby being held up by the feet moments after birth. In contrast to the post-mortem Mass, this minute depiction of the first moments of life draws our attention into a close and intense focus. Inverting the original image and hanging the baby on the wall creates a cruciform which invites contemplation as if a religious icon, only to be pierced by what appears on closer inspection to be an almost mischievous expression.
Man in a Boat (2002) is a particularly mysterious scene. A man covers his naked body with his arms as he sits in the prow of an elegant clinker-built boat, craning forward with a questioning and searching gaze. As is often the case in Mueck’s work, this figure seems “to withdraw or drift off into inner states we can’t quite access”, in the words of art critic Justin Paton.
With A Girl (2006), visitors find themselves confronted with a gigantic newborn and themselves become the object of her first glimpse of the new world it has been born into. With traces of blood and umbilical cord intact, her body is marked by the experience of delivery. The staggering distortion of scale forces us to acknowledge the fundamentality of this moment in all our lives; the miracle and ordeal of birth.
The works of Ron Mueck, at once deeply mysterious and extremely genuine, imbue reality with a dreamlike quality inviting us to confront our own relationship to the body and, more broadly, to existence.
Born in Melbourne in 1958 and living in the UK since 1986, Ron Mueck has developed a body of work which touches on the universal, and has profoundly renewed contemporary sculpture. His uncanny and convincing characters, always sculpted on an astonishing scale, take months, or sometime years, to create. From a period of just over twenty five years his total oeuvre consists of 48 works, the most recent to be completed in time for this exhibition’s opening.
In 2005, the Fondation Cartier was the first French institution to host a solo exhibition of Ron Mueck, subsequently devoting a more comprehensive exhibition to him in 2013. Several acquisitions ensued from these two exhibitions, and today, the Fondation Cartier is the only French institution to collect his work. The exhibition will next be presented at Triennale Milano from December 2023 to March 2024 in the framework of the partnership between the Fondation Cartier and the Milan institution.
Curator: Hervé Chandès
Associate Curator: Charlie Clarke
Exhibition Project Manager : Aby Gaye