Ron Mueck is one of the few living artists I am interested in. His massive life-like sculptures are something I’ve only seen photos of, but something was intriguing. It was fortunate then that Mueck at the Mac was running. I’m not sure how the art world operates, but for Belfast, this felt like a big get for Northern Ireland.
I don’t get modern art
Before you read on any further, I need you to know that my opinion on Mueck at the Mac might be invalid. I don’t get modern art. Most, it feels like poncy navel-gazing, a bourgeois LARP where everyone (but you) is in on the joke. The number of times I have spoken to a modern art aficionado only to watch the corner of their mouth curl so that I have to ask them if they’re taking the piss. They assure me they’re not, but doubt casts a long shadow.
Further proof you should disregard my opinion, I went out with a woman who was an artist. In going to show after show, she became further exasperated with my repeated declarations of “I don’t get it”. Finally, she told me it wasn’t meant for me, and there wasn’t much to get. This woman went on to win the Turner prize, which should serve as proof that my opinion should count for nought.
I like Mueck because the work looks like something
How come I like Ron Mueck’s work? Well, I like it because it looks like something. There is so much in modern art where not only are you supposed to make your own mind up in many instances, it feels like you are meant to assemble the art in your mind too. So many modern art galleries feel like the pick-up point in an Ikea. The artist gives you the pieces, and you are meant to bring them home, pour out all the parts, and just as you’re about to slot the last piece in, you realise a screw has gone missing. Mueck at the Mac, on the other hand, has done the work for you, it looks like something, and that is when the real beauty becomes manifest.
It looks weird from afar, but the details are exceptional
When you see the pieces from afar, they look strange, uncanny, and cartoon-like in some instances. The work does not look like one person in particular, but it looks like someone who could exist, don’t they? Maybe not, no the eyes are too big, the legs are too thin, and the face is too elongated to look like an actual living person. Look at those legs. On closer inspection, they look convincing, the pigmentation, the veins running beneath the surface, the folds and creases. It looks life-like. Mueck’s work has this strange effect: when taken as a whole, it does not look natural, but when you try to figure out what it is that feels unreal, your search becomes empty. The effect that it has is one of uncanny. What makes something “real”? What makes something life-like?
There’s an ambiguity
When you get past the aesthetic, you feel yourself engaging, even empathising with the work. What do their expressions mean? How do they feel? Even though these are some latex, silicone and other materials, the faces draw you in. The ambiguity has this power in that the people and subjects become this puzzle you want to solve but know that you never can. I like art that lacks exposition. Art that gives you credit. I’m not too fond of modern art when it feels like the artist wants to belittle or condescend to their audience. You have to give me tools, tell me the rules, and I’ll take it from there.
Mueck reminds me of Greg Crewdson
If Mueck at the Mac reminds me of the photos of Greg Crewsdon, his photos are the most staged photographs you will see. They are more akin to film productions than your standard photography set. They’re artificial, and they are fake. Here’s the thing, I like the fakeness. I like that they are posed to the nth degree. In that fakeness, a new truth may emerge. It may not always emerge satisfyingly, but the truth is swimming below the surface. Unfortunately, with so much modern art, there is no truth, and you are treated like an idiot for expecting otherwise.
For me, it was one called Youth, a black teen holding up his t-shirt to reveal his wound. It did not do anything for me. The face is obscured, and you don’t understand the storyline with a woman with shopping bags. It was good, but it just felt like it didn’t have much to say. It’s still great, but it felt the least immediate out of all the pieces.
There were so many good pieces in this show. My top pics were a woman with sticks and a dead dad.
Woman with sticks was great because it was this stout disgruntled-looking woman with a pile of sticks. The interaction with the skin and branches feels like you can see how the body will move next. Is she a normal-sized woman or tiny? How come she’s naked, carrying these sticks.
Dead dad is great because you feel that this may be personal. Is it Mueck’s father? The body is small. Is this how his father appears in the artist’s mind’s eye. The nakedness displays vulnerability. Is there something up with the colour of the body? How long have they been dead?
Mueck at the MAC was a fantastic show and I hope Northern Ireland get more artists of this calibre.
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