0417 on the town art exhibit mfah man in a boat sculpture ron mueck nsd4pe

Man in a Boat (2002)

A young boy squats in front of a mirror, contemplating his reflection. A nude man, alone on a leaky boat, gives the bow a pensive look, perhaps realizing he is lost at sea. An older couple, both in bathing suits, share a quiet moment, the man’s head resting in the woman’s lap, his arm gripping hers with just a hint of desperation.

These and 10 other eye-popping, hyper-realistic, emotionally charged sculptures by Ron Mueck—some larger than life; some smaller; none to regular, old scale—are currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston for the enigmatic artist’s eponymous exhibition. Spanning the years from 1999 to 2013, the works on view, which represent a third of Mueck’s total output, chronicle the various stages of human life from birth to death (mostly human, we should say; there is one chicken).   

When first encountering these eerily lifelike sculptures, you might ask yourself: Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing? “The engaging realism of his work provokes a kind of curiosity,” says curator Alison de Lima Greene of Mueck. “People really walk around his pieces, trying to look at them from every angle.”

0417 on the town crouching boy in mirror sculpture ron mueck mfah snpay8

Crouching Boy in Mirror (1999–2002)

Before becoming a full-time artist, Mueck, who very rarely gives interviews, worked in film and television, most famously as a puppeteer for the 1984 film Labyrinth. He continues to draw upon his model-making skills to heighten the emotional impact of his work. “He’s very astute about what little change in scale will make a piece even more memorable,” says Greene. “But he’s not trying to trick you into thinking you’re looking at actual figures.”

That said, Mueck’s Mask II, a representation of the artist’s own head blown up to four times its size, is all the more unnerving when one views its minute details, including a tiny bit of drool at the corner of the mouth.

“He’s also dealing with themes that have been in the history of art for two millennia,” explains Greene, who notes Mask II mirrors Brâncuși’s sculpture Sleeping Muse (1910). “There is a quality of Mueck’s work that invites empathy. People keep circling back to that, and respond based on their own life experiences.”

Thru Aug 13. $13–18; free for children and members. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 5601 Main St. 713-639-7300; mfah.org

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