Art | March 3, 2024 |

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Image courtesy of Triennale Milano

Ron Mueck
Triennale Milano
December 5, 2023 – March 10, 2024

From December 5, 2023, to March 10, 2024, Triennale Milano and the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain present the first Italian solo exhibition of the Australian artist Ron Mueck, featuring a selection of works that have never been shown before in Italy. This exhibition at Triennale is an evolution of the show held in Paris in the summer of 2023, conceived by Fondation Cartier in close collaboration with the artist. It marks the third milestone in an uninterrupted exchange between Ron Mueck and the French institution, that has continued uninterrupted since 2005.

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Image courtesy of Triennale Milano

The exhibition comprises six sculptures and the monumental installation Mass, commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne) in 2017 and on display for the first time outside Australia as part of this project, which illustrates the latest developments in Mueck’s work, alongside iconic pieces from the various stages of his career. The exhibition includes two films by French photographer and filmmaker Gautier Deblonde. This solo show of Ron Mueck’s work is the seventh exhibition organized in the course of the eight-year partnership between Triennale Milano and Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, two European institutions that both take a multi-disciplinary approach and share the same vision of contemporary culture and artistic creation.

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Image courtesy of Triennale Milano

The work of Ron Mueck (who was born in Melbourne in 1958 and has lived and worked in the United Kingdom since 1986), touches on the universal and has profoundly renewed contemporary figurative sculpture. His prodigious and realistic characters, always sculpted on an astonishing scale, take months, or sometimes years, to create. In a career spanning 25 years, he has produced a corpus of 48 works, the most recent of which he completed just before the opening of the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain exhibition in Paris, in June 2023. The works of Ron Mueck, at once deeply mysterious and extremely genuine, are often imbued with a surreal quality, which invites us to confront our relationship with the body and, more broadly, with existence.

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Image courtesy of Triennale Milano

Mass (2017), in its monumental scale and ambition, is the centrepiece of the exhibition and represents a milestone in the artist’s career. Commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne, Australia), 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 provides a glimpse of the work’s diverse interpretations. The multiple meanings of the word “mass” in English, 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.

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Image courtesy of Triennale Milano

Mass marks a turning point in Mueck’s career, the expression of his desire to embrace new ways of sculpting. The new works on display at this exhibition – Mass (2017), En Garde (2023), and This Little Piggy (2023-ongoing) – reveal how the artist is continuing his gradual shift away from his 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. En Garde (2023) and This Little Piggy(2023-ongoing) show how this new approach enables the artist to broaden the subject matter and explore larger sculptural groups, with dynamic poses or movements.

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Image courtesy of Triennale Milano

En Garde (2023) is a spectacular and menacing group of dogs measuring nearly three metres in height. Here the paring back of surface detail in favour of a concentration on form and tension allows the immediacy of the first encounter to remain as the viewer moves closer. The sculpture is a vivid reflection of the uncertainty of the present and how the future may unfold.

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Image courtesy of Triennale Milano

This Little Piggy (2023-ongoing) is a small-scale sculpture inspired by a passage from John Berger’s novel Pig Earth (1979), and marks the first time Mueck has allowed audiences to witness a work in progress. In This Little Piggy, the presence of the artist’s hand can be felt manipulating the unfinished clay as he orchestrates the movements and stresses of this unusually large group of figures working together towards a common goal.

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Image courtesy of Triennale Milano

Iconic works from the 2000s Baby (2000) is a small sculpture of a baby boy, 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 small depiction of the first moments of life draws our attention into a close and intense focus. By inverting the original image and hanging the sculpture on the wall, the artist creates a cruciform that invites contemplation in the manner of a religious icon, before piercing it with what appears, on closer inspection, to be a mischievous expression.

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Image courtesy of Triennale Milano

In Bed (2005) is a giant depiction of a woman lying in bed, with her head propped up against the pillows. Despite its colossal size, the sculpture looks delicate and intimate. As is always the case in Ron Mueck’s work, the distorted proportions are central to the viewer’s encounter. In this case, the large scale alters the perspective to create a feeling of closeness to a person whose thoughts seem to be elsewhere. In Bed has been part of the Fondation Cartier Collection since 2005.

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Image courtesy of Triennale Milano

Woman with Sticks (2009), her back bent under the effort of an unexplained task and her feet firmly anchored to the ground, creates a dynamic posture set against the elegant irregularity of the barely contained sticks. The softness of her skin is scarred by the sharp, dry wood, and the expression on her face seems to indicate concentration on her surroundings. The deliberately small scale gives the sculpture an unsettling strangeness, as if we are looking in on a world that is both physically present but at the same time allegorical. Woman with Sticks has been part of the Fondation Cartier Collection since 2013.

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Image courtesy of Triennale Milano

Still Life: Ron Mueck at Work (2013) and Three Dogs, a Pig and a Crow (2023) are two films by the French photographer and film-maker Gautier Deblonde, whose images have captured the atmosphere of Mueck’s studio and working practice for 25 years. Shot in the artist’s studios and during the installation of sculptures at shows and presentations, these films offer a rare insight into the creation of the works as they evolve into the completed sculptures we see in the exhibition. The films were commissioned over the years by Fondation Cartier, to be shown alongside Ron Mueck’s exhibitions.


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Image courtesy of Triennale Milano
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Image courtesy of Triennale Milano
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Image courtesy of Triennale Milano

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