Ron Mueck

Spooning Couple

2005

Medium
Mixed media
Dimensions
Plinth: 690 x 827 x 624 mm, 20 kg
displayed: 1165 x 1040 x 790 mm
Acquisition
ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
Reference
AR00033

Summary

Spooning Couple is a sculpture by Australian artist Ron Mueck representing a man and woman lying down together. Both figures have a light skin tone and are semi-naked. The figures are represented with a high degree of realism apart from their scale, which is approximately half life-size. They are displayed on a low plinth so that the viewer sees them from above. The couple lie in a spooning position: both figures lie on their right-hand side facing in the same direction, with the woman lying in a slight foetal position while the man lies behind her, his body curled next to hers. The man wears an off-white T-shirt and is naked from the waist down. He lies with his right arm bent under his head and his left arm bent up to his chest. His pale brown straight hair hangs limp around his face and his gaze is cast slightly downward. The woman is naked from the waist up and wears grey knickers. Both of her arms are drawn up close to her body with her right hand pressed lightly against her mouth. Her straight brown hair falls under her head with one strand falling loose. The woman's eyes are also open and she looks slightly downwards.

Spooning Couple was made in 2005 according to the same method Mueck consistently employs to create his sculptures. The artist begins with drawings before creating small maquettes made from plaster or clay to refine his ideas. The maquettes are gradually scaled up to create a full-sized, detailed clay model of the work. From this clay model Mueck makes a series of mould sections in order to cast the sculpture in fibreglass. The fibreglass sculpture is then painted and the hair is applied, with each strand inserted individually into the polyester resin. The last detail added to the sculptures are the eyes. Spooning Couple, like all Mueck's sculptures, is rendered with hyper-realistic detail, noticeable from the texture of the skin to the careful placement of individual hairs. Before working as an artist Mueck was a puppet and prop maker for television and film, where he developed his precise techniques. Prior to Spooning Couple Mueck had only made one sculpture that included more than one figure, Mother and Child 2001 (Museum Brandhorst, Munich). In 2005, however, he made Spooning Couple and another sculpture which features two figures, Two Women 2005 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne).

The position adopted by this couple would usually convey affection. However, there appears to be tension between the two figures. Originally the artist had considered draping the man's left arm around the woman's waist. Instead, he retracted the arm, leaving the man holding it close to his own body. As the curator Keith Hartley has observed, ‘by moving [the arm] away, he altered the whole relationship between the couple’ (Hartley 2006, p.10). Moreover, the facial expressions of both figures also suggest that they are, as Hartley has said, ‘deep in their own separate worlds’ (Hartley 2006, p.10).

Mueck frequently experiments with the scale of his sculptures. Some works are larger than actual size, such as Wild Man 2005 (Tate AR00034), while others, including Spooning Couple, are on a much smaller scale. The art historian Rachel Wells has noted that, in the case of this work, the small scale allows the underlying anxiety and tension between the man and woman to be more effectively portrayed: ‘the exaggeration in terms of scale accompanies the outward expression of inner loss of “proper” proportions’ (Wells 2013, p.46). By altering scale Mueck also gives the sculpture more of an emotional and physiological impact. As the artist has remarked: ‘it makes you take notice in a way that you wouldn't do with something that's just normal’ (quoted in Tanguy 2003, accessed 10 December 2014).

Further reading
Sarah Tanguy, ‘The Progress Big Man: A Conversation with Ron Mueck’, Sculpture: A Publication of the International Sculpture Centre, vol.22, no.6, July/August 2003, http://www.sculpture.org /documents/scmag03/jul_aug03/mueck/mueck.shtml, accessed 10 December 2014.
Ron Mueck, exhibition catalogue, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh 2006.
Rachel Wells, Scale in Contemporary Sculpture: Enlargement, Miniaturisation and the Life-Size, London 2013.

Susan Mc Ateer
University of Edinburgh
February 2015

The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.

Online caption

Presenting a psychological drama is one of Mueck’s chief aims in creating his sculptures. This is nowhere better seen than in ‘Spooning Couple’. The figures are lying together on a low plinth so that we look down on them from a bird’s eye perspective. The man, naked from the waist down, and the woman, naked from the waist up, are lying together, almost in a foetal position, her body fitting into the hollow of his – like spoons. They may be ‘spooning’ in a literal way, but they are in anything but a warm, loving embrace. Their expressions show them to be deep in their own separate worlds. The man almost catches our gaze in complicit acknowledgement that the bond between them seems to have broken down.