Jaws drop, eyes widen, and voices exclaim when I take kids into the room at the Winnipeg Art Gallery where Australian born, London-based artist Ron Mueck’s enormous sculpture The Girl is on display. The little girl has just been born and her umbilical cord is still attached. Blood remains on her wrinkled and folded skin. You can see the glisten of saliva on the baby’s lips, the wet of mucus in her nose and her tiny eyelashes. You need to walk slowly all around the figure and think about it. Mueck says that while he spends lots of time making the outer surface of his giant human beings it is really the life inside them he is trying to capture. After our older son was born my husband walked around the delivery room carrying him and talking to him. “I wonder what he is thinking,” he said to me. Mueck’s sculpture has that quizzical thinking look about it. Mueck has created other life-size sculptures of babies. He made the first after the birth of his child. Mueck reflects on the strangeness and assertiveness of infants and the way a new baby tends to totally dominate our lives. Mueck’s Old Woman in Bed is on display just a few steps away from The Girl. This art piece shows a dying, vulnerable woman in her hospital bed. She is as tiny as Mueck’s baby is big. One high school girl in a group I toured through the exhibit had tears in her eyes. “My grandfather just died,” she said to me. “My mom is trying to connect with his soul.” Artist Ron Mueck made the Old Woman in Bed after visiting his wife’s beloved grandmother in the hospital. The woman is curled in a fetal position, and her wrinkled skin, so like the wrinkled skin of the baby, links her clearly with the new born girl nearby. This exhibit juxtapositions the beginning and end of a woman’s life beautifully and in such a moving and compassionate way.
The Girl and Old Woman in Bed are on loan to the Winnipeg Art Gallery from the National Gallery in Ottawa till October 4. They are not to be missed!