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[EN] Giant Skulls, Dogs, and a Baby?

Blog post: written by Mckenna

I recently had the pleasure of attending an exhibit at the Cartier Foundation in the 14th arrondissement, which showcased a collection of artworks by Ron Mueck– a renowned artist known for his oversized sculptures and extreme realism.

    Prior to this I did some research to learn that Mueck was born in Australia and began his career in the film and television industry, honing his skills in special effects and prop-making. However, it was his transition to fine art and his distinctive approach to sculpture that propelled him into the international spotlight. 

    Mueck’s sculptures, often exceeding human scale, are meticulously crafted with an impeccable attention to detail. Through his mastery of hyperrealism, he skillfully captures the subtle nuances of human expression, texture, and form, creating a sense of awe and wonder in viewers. His sculptures have an uncanny ability to evoke powerful emotions, transcending the boundaries between art and reality. Whether it is the monumental figure of a newborn baby or the imposing presence of an elderly man, his sculptures invite contemplation on the complexities of the human condition.

The Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris is known for its dedication to promoting innovative and boundary-pushing contemporary artists. This esteemed institution has provided a platform for Mueck’s monumental sculptures, allowing audiences to experience the sheer impact of his art firsthand. Within the Cartier Foundation’s contemporary art space, Mueck’s sculptures come to life, mesmerizing visitors with their uncanny realism and profound presence. These larger-than-life artworks challenge conventional notions of scale and provoke introspection, inviting viewers to delve into the depths of their own humanity.

    I began my journey at the Cartier Foundation by walking through the outdoor space; the building itself is beautifully crafted with long windows, making the entire ground floor transparent from the outside; this allowed for a brief preview of what was to come. Vines and other plants drape naturally over the building, making the structure seem as though it was part of the outside environment. I continued along the path to find a serene sitting area in the backyard; here I also found hidden stairwells to additional benches. 

    After taking in the surroundings, I headed inside to discover the first of the two rooms on the ground floor. Skulls, skulls, and more skulls! I entered to find a room full of skulls, each about the size of an average human body, placed meticulously in piles around the room; this installation was titled Mass (2017) and is comprised of 100 giant human skulls. Additionally, there were a few stragglers along the room purposefully placed to fill the space. This installation offers a psychological experience, encouraging visitors to reflect on the conditions of human existence and question the multiple meanings of the title. The detailed and life-like skulls themselves are familiar, yet repulsive, which immediately grabs the attention of viewers. An additional skull lies directly outside of this exhibit, titles Dead Weight (2021), which captures the nuances of Mass through a two-ton cast-iron skull; this piece also shows the nature of process by maintaining objects used for its creation. Both works allow us to remember our mortality and the idea that in the end, we’re all the same.

   I then proceeded into the adjacent room to find an enormous newborn baby that took up the majority of the room. The details were extremely realistic, I felt as though it would start moving or crying. This piece is titled
A Girl (2006) and its dimensions for reference are 3.6 x 16.4 x 4.4 feet. This work with her peering eyes, in a way, allows the visitors to be the first thing this newborn is seeing when waking up. Her body still presents aspects of her delivery, with her umbilical cord still unimpaired and smeared blood still tracing her body. This piece is meant to allow viewers to contemplate the miracle of birth and the tribulations that accompany it.

    I then found myself downstairs being glared at by three massive, powerful-looking dogs. They reminded me of Fluffy from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, as if they were guarding something or ready to pounce at any minute. This piece Untitled (Three Dogs) (2023) includes sculptures of three dogs, which each measure about 10 feet high; this piece took Mueck about 10 years to accomplish. Its mysterious nature conjures a typical childhood fear, whilst eluding audiences to question if the dogs are pets, stray, guard dogs protecting something, or threatening animals, and what our place is in this story.

    In the same room, two other works are presented- firstly This Little Piggy (2023), which demonstrates one of Mueck’s works in progress. He was inspired into creating this piece by a John Berger novel, which acknowledged moments in a rural community; this small-scale sculpture shows men tasked with slaughtering a pig. The detailed pig, surrounded by incomplete men provide a powerful contrast of modern violence against a preindustrial society. The second piece is another baby! What’s more is that it is titled Baby (2000); this tiny sculpture- 0.9 x 0.4 x 0.2 feet- presents a new-born baby boy that is posed on the wall in a way that echoed Jesus’s crucifixion. This work was inspired by images in a medical textbook of a newborn baby being held up immediately after birth by his feet. However, Mueck decided to take this form and flip the baby right side up- which in turn resembled a cruciform. He played into this by placing it on a wall. Although very small, this baby is again extremely realistic with obvious attention to even the finest of details. This piece initially invites a religious discussion, but also allows for wider interpretations, due to the vexatious expression the baby has.

    The last of Ron Mueck’s work in this exhibit sat downstairs in the adjacent room and is titled
Man in a Boat (2002) and does in fact include a sculpture of a man in the prow of a long boat. This mysterious scene presents a naked man sitting with his arms crossed, who appears to be glancing around the front-side of the boat with a investigative expression. The detailed life-like man’s size is contrasted by the size of the wooden long boat, which helps induce a state of solitude. The room sat exceedingly quiet, as if we were waiting for the man to do something, instead he just sat there calmly. 

    In all, my visit to the Ron Mueck exhibition at the Cartier Foundation for contemporary art in Paris was a truly mesmerizing experience. Mueck’s oversized sculptures and extreme realism left an indelible impression on me, showcasing his remarkable talent and attention to detail. From the moment I entered the exhibit, I was captivated by the sheer magnitude of Mueck’s works. These artworks were truly a testament to the artist’s immense talent and his ability to blur the boundaries between art and reality. The experience of witnessing Mueck’s oversized sculptures in person left me in awe of his craftsmanship and the profound emotions they evoked. It was an exhibition that will be etched in my memory for years to come, reminding me of the power of art to challenge perceptions and ignite a deep connection with the human experience.

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