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Naked Witch Joins Plucked Chicken in Mueck’s Paris Show

Ron Mueck
"Drift" (2009) by Ron Mueck. The sculpture is on view at the Fondation Cartier through Oct. 27. Source: Fondation Cartier, Paris via Bloomberg

An elderly couple in their bathing suits under an umbrella, his head resting in her lap -- nothing could seem more trivial.

Apart from one anomaly: sculptor Ron Mueck has made them twice the size of normal beach goers.

Australian-born Mueck is fond of extravagant proportions and takes us like Gulliver, from Lilliput to Brobdingnag, from the land of dwarfs to the land of giants.

The Fondation Cartier exhibition in Paris is the second devoted to the sculptor -- remarkable considering his small output: In 17 years, he has produced no more than 40 works.

Nine are on view in Paris, three of them are new.

Unlike the late Duane Hanson, another hyperrealist sculptor, Mueck is no social critic.

While Hanson’s fat women with shopping bags and tourists with baseball caps, cameras and sandals are caricatures of middle America, Mueck’s over and undersized creatures remain mysterious.

Like dummies in a shop window, they have no individuality.

The naked woman carrying a huge bundle of sticks may be a witch preparing an auto-da-fe for Hansel and Gretel. Or not.

In some cases, the catalog suggests a religious subtext. The swimmer on an air mattress who extends his arms, we’re told, may have been inspired by the Crucifixion, the young man who examines a wound below his chest evokes Caravaggio’s “The Incredulity of St. Thomas.”

Not everybody will buy that.

Bird Flu

Mueck rarely creates anything other than human figures. The giant plucked chicken hanging on a hook, his comment on an avian flu epidemic, is an exception. It just may be the best work in the show.

Since his breakthrough with a five-meter-high “Boy” at the 2001 Venice Biennale, Mueck is highly sought after on the international art circuit.

On the other hand, Felicie de Fauveau (1801-86) has been completely overlooked, until now. A show at the Musee d’Orsay says she is the first female sculptor to make a living from her art and is the first retrospective of her work.

One reasons for this neglect was her politics: Close to the reactionary elder branch of the Bourbons which lost the throne in 1830, she participated in the uprising against the liberal Louis Philippe, was arrested and then fled to Florence where she spent the rest of her life.

She found her clients among wealthy European aristocrats who shared her views on the divine right of kings, particularly in Russia. The autocratic Czar Nicholas I paid a visit to her studio and commissioned a fountain for the Peterhof Palace.

The 70 or so items in the show include busts, sculptures of saints, and funerary monuments. They reveal a remarkable talent heavily steeped in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, when democracy was still light years away.

One relief, admired by Stendhal and the elder Alexandre Dumas at the 1831 salon, portrays Queen Christina of Sweden refusing to pardon a traitor. Like her royal model, Mademoiselle de Fauveau never married and preferred politics to sex.

The show at the Musee d’Orsay runs through Sept. 15, the show at the Fondation Cartier through Oct. 27. Information: and

(Jorg von Uthmann is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Manuela Hoelterhoff on arts, Catherine Hickley on German art, Warwick Thompson on music and Jason Harper on cars.

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