Untitled (Head of a Baby) 2003
Silicone, fibreglass resin, and mixed media
© Ron Mueck, courtesy Anthony d'Offay, London
After having worked in children's television, motion picture special effects, and advertising for twenty years in Australia and Great Britain, in the early 1980s Ron Mueck moved to London and became a professional model maker for Jim Henson's Muppets. In 1996 he participated in Spellbound, a group exhibition presented at the Hayward Gallery. The following year he attracted attention for his work Dead Dad, a smaller than life-size but hyper-real sculpture of an old man, which was part of the Royal Academy of Arts exhibition Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection. Since that time his work has been included in the Aperto Section of the 49th Venice Biennale, with solo exhibitions at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C., the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, and more recently at the National Gallery, London, where he spent two years as an artist in residence.
Untitled (Head of a Baby) continues Mueck's investigation of the hyper-real human form. Here, he presents the head of a very young baby at a gargantuan scale befitting a public monument.The artist is able to achieve a high degree of realism in his figures, which, in turn, invites close inspection. Rather than disappoint viewers, Mueck honours their gaze by paying particular attention to life-like details. Convincing skin colours have been slowly built up with layers of pink and blue oil paints, and individual hairs applied by hand to give the illusion that they are actually growing out of the baby's skin.
One of the artist's primary strategies is to shrink or enlarge the figure, a change in scale that imbues his forms with a psychological dimension they do not ordinarily possess. With the exception of scale, colour, and attention to detail, Untitled (Head of a Baby) mimics a classical bust, sculptures that are essentially portraits of the famous. Although this young human has yet to make its mark on the world, at this monumental scale the baby appears paradoxically to possess the gravitas of a great leader.
Whereas Mueck's earlier sculptures portrayed adorable, larger than life-size babies who looked as if they had been momentarily borrowed from a diaper commercial, the baby of Untitled has the neutral gaze of a contented newborn. This noticeable shift within Mueck's practice can be attributed to his residency at the National Gallery, where he studied Renaissance paintings of the Virgin Mary with the infant Christ. Struck by the artificiality of the representations, the artist became interested in attempting to make highly realistic sculptures of babies alone and with their mothers.