Wednesday 4 May 2016

Man in a Boat, Ron Mueck

During our visit to the Volksgarten in Vienna, we came across this building in the middle of the park

The Theseus Temple was designed by the court architect, Peter von Nobile, between 1811 and 1823. It was devised as the home and setting of a single contemporary artwork: Antonio Canova's Theseus Slaying the Centaur, which stood in the Theseus Temple for almost seven decades. But in 1890 it was removed to the newly-erected Kunsthistorisches Museum, where it remains to this day.  Over a century later a new exhibition series organised by the Kunsthistorisches Museum returned the temple to its original purpose by presenting a major work of a contemporary artist at the Temple every year.

The bronze statue Young Athlete in front of the Temple is by Josef Mullner, 1921.

When we first walked by the Temple it was closed but as we were leaving the park we noticed that it was open so we went in. We were very lucky to have stumbled upon a tour by the Kunsthistorisches Museum, because 15 minutes later the doors were locked again.

Man in a Boat, Ron Muck, 2002 (mixed media)

This sculpture was created during a residency at the National Gallery in London in 2000-2002.


A naked man, slightly more than half-size, sits in the prow of a rowing boat. His arms are folded, his neck is craned and he stares out through tired eyes in the middle-distance. It is not clear where he is going, or from where he might have come. He seems adrift, both literally and metaphorically.

His expression is curious and watchful but ultimately ambiguous. It is this ambiguity that the artist labours meticulously to achieve.

A lonely character in an introspective situation very realistically rendered and yet clearly out of this world. The artist put it like this: 'my characters are in that land of make-believe, to some extent, in which they seem realistic, yet are also objects in a room'.

The sculpture of the man is hyper real with obsessive surface detail: blemishes, hairs, veins and expression are all meticulously executed with a rigorous eye for detail.

Mueck makes plaster maquettes to test ideas, does drawings of various sizes and takes decisions on the scale of the piece. He then sculpts the figure in clay with all the lifelike touches that will appear in the final sculpture. A mould is made of the clay figure and he casts it out in fibreglass resin and silicone. The skin of his figures, which tempts people to peer at it to see if it could be real, is built up from layers of silicone. The lower layers are impregnated with pigment, resulting in a finish that has the slight transparency of the real thing. Each hair is sewn by hand. The slightest trace of a seam or any other technical blemish would ruin the illusion and the piece would lose its power.


  1. Thank you so much for catching this and showing it. It is not one of Mueck's pieces I knew about. It is movingly beautiful like most of his work.

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