When I was about six and the movies still meant going to a theatre to see a double feature, one major and one minor, plus a newsreel, a cartoon and maybe a couple of shorts, there was a funny short about Fibber Magee and Molly, who were normally on the radio. An ongoing gag was Magee’s closet, which was so full that when he opened the door everything fell out in a sound effects masterpiece. In the movie the contents included unlikely things, including a head mannequin for modeling hats. From the hat shelf, it looked at the avalanche and rolled its eyes. I was both chilled and amazed. How could only a head do that? I worried about whether the head were a conscious person. I kept asking and asking about that head until people got tired of me.
In the last few days I’ve finally watched all four Indiana Jones movies, which features MANY heads that melt, explode, exfoliate -- both on and off bodies. This time I knew sorta how they did it and it was ME who got tired of it.
Then my new Sculpture Review came.
Glancing at the cover, I assumed this couple was a pair of famous sculptresses. Then I read the articles inside. It’s an absolutely brilliant collection of essays about sculptors who do super-real sculptures. These two old ladies are by Ron Mueck and if you doubt their origins as plastilene, here they are in the early development.
We’re used to Duane Hanson’s super-real depictions of people. In the museums people get confused about who’s real and who isn’t, talking to the sculptures and then being startled when someone they thought was a sculpture walks off. The technology is not different from what we used in the foundry fifty years ago, except that the substances are quite different -- polymers and silicones. Some of these people do movie work -- a combination of trick imitation people or prostheses that age the actor and quite splendid sculptures for backgrounds in temples or to be animated for movies like “Jurassic Park.” The sculptor Joey Orosco is famous for his dying triceratops, massively pitiful.
But simply being hyperreal is not enough to be real “art.” Ron Mueck has a strong metaphysical component to what he does. One of his most famous pieces, called “Dead Dad," simply depicts the corpse of an old man which he created while his own father was dying at some distance. Nude, finally vulnerable after a lifetime of being difficult, it reveals that personhood and body are not the same thing -- and yet they are. When Mueck makes these pieces, he is working out something in his heart and mind. As well as dead people, he makes lovers -- cupped together and less than three feet long -- and infants, sometimes huge.
This particular sculptor combines his ultra realism with a completely different scale. "Woman in bed” is actually as big as she looks. That’s the sculptor putting giant curlers in her hair. He’s right next to her -- not in the distance to make him look small. The author, Ann Landi, points out that we have become accustomed to seeing faces thirty feet tall in the movies, as well as vignettes like the one above. (That’s all of her -- a face, an arm and bedding.) Her musing dismay is somewhere between a photo and reality. The new materials that make the technique possible allow philosophical and aesthetic significance.
Giancarlo Biagi, the editor of the Sculpture Review, which is published by The National Sculpture Society formed to defend figurative sculpture in an age of abstraction, has brilliantly renewed the content of the small review to make it intensely modern, always organized around a theme. The issue doesn’t just explore this hyperrealism but puts it in the setting of historical efforts, some of which have become sources for set artists in today’s films. Masks, puppets, robots and the attempted depiction of the future by someone like Fritz Lang, which now seem both dated and prescient, make us think differently about what we see. His lead editorial focuses on the photos of William Howard Mumler, who used double exposures to create metaphysical photos of what he claimed were the ghosts of one’s ancestors hovering just behind the chair. Just so do ancestors lurk behind every sculpture.
This piece is my size. It is very much related to my state of mind when I’m blogging, gathering up fuel for thought. This sturdy nude woman with her arms full of sticks is also a female Sisyphus and an image that any contemporary middle European peasant or early Native American or country African woman would understand. I worry sometimes that movies and esp. footage of explosions and catastrophes around the world are eroding our respect for the human body, forcing us to look at people as parts incapable of housing thoughts and emotions. Artists like Hoeck et al restore the sanctity and wonder of our flesh.
Since the reproductive technology of the Internet may not allow the posting of these images, I urge you to go to www.sculpturereview.com where you can at least see the front cover and -- if you are so inclined -- order the magazine. Libraries in the past have always carried Sculpture Review, but budgets are unreliable now. The world’s progress is very uneven but, maybe in the face of preconceptions about representational art being old-fashioned and predictable, this sculpture is absolutely cutting edge.
Artists discussed include William Howard Mumler; Wesley Wofford (Batman & Robin, Planet of the Apes); Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut, Karl Vollbrecht, and Walter Schulze-Mittendorf (Metropolis); Rudolph Belling; Ron Mueck; Michelle Millay and Joey Orosco who share a studio (Jurassic Park, Ghost and the Darkness).