ONTARIO.- On view from tomorrow in Shawinigan Space at La Cité de lénergie, the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) presents Real Life, an exhibition showcasing the work of two important figures in contemporary art: internationally reknowned sculptor Ron Mueck, and the Berlin-based video artist Guy Ben-Ner. Organized by the NGC and presented by La Cité de lénergie, the exhibition features six sculptures by Mueck and nine works by Ben-Ner, including seven installations and videos, and two drawings. An extensive display of preparatory materials for each artist, including sketches, maquettes and storyboards is also featured.
"Real Life follows Ron Muecks outstanding solo show at the NGC in 2007, and offers Canadian viewers the opportunity to investigate his production in great detail," said the Director of the NGC, Pierre Théberge. "At the same time, it introduces us to the works of Guy Ben-Ner, that humorously but critically engages the everyday dramas of real life."
The extraordinary hyper-realist sculptures of Ron Mueck revisit the course of life from birth to death, while Guy Ben-Ners affectionate and intimate home videos dwell on more precise moments when life and our relations with others begin. Together, the work of these two artists creates a narrative in Real Life about the contradictions, challenges, and creative possibilities of the human condition.
According to Jonathan Shaughnessy, NGC Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art, "Real Life draws connections between two very different artists who share a common interest in a direct, hands-on approach capable of bridging the gap between experience and our reflection on it. In this, neither Ron Mueck nor Guy Ben-Ner stray very far away from real life in artistic process or content as they work to diffuse the boundaries between art and everyday life."
Both Mueck and Ben-Ner make the immediate world around them the focus of their work, including their families. Guy Ben-Ners family members serve as actors in all of his videos while Mueck often uses relatives and close acquaintances as models in his sculptures.
The magical, life-like quality of Muecks hyper-realist sculptures is striking. They show no traces of the artists hand, which allows each work to create its own psychological effect from defiance to puzzlement to sorrow without an apparent mediator. The artists sculptures not only engage the viewer in an emotional voyage from birth to death, but present a poignant image of the existential problem of the human condition. The aura that emanates from each work is so strong that the object seems to demand an open-ended dialogue between two selves: sculpture and viewer.
This exchange begins in the graphic depiction of birth provided by the huge, unyieldingly defiant newborn, A Girl (2006), and ends with the reduced yet powerful confrontation with aging and death of Old Woman in Bed (2000). In between, are works addressing everyday life from the mundane to the consequential including Mother and Child (2001-03), capturing the mutually inquisitive, fatigued, astonished gaze between two beings not yet separated but suddenly strangers to each other, In Bed (2005), a large-scale brooding depiction of melancholy, and the much smaller Seated Woman (1999), who seems to be reflecting on a life almost passed.
Where life and art meet
Guy Ben-Ners seemingly off-the-cuff home videos are actually carefully constructed, often taking over a year to make, governed by innumerable hours of editing and the restrictions of working with children. Since his early productions, Ben-Ner has gone on to establish an aesthetic common denominator as a father working closely with his wife and children. His narratives have clearly delineated plots from beginning to end that interrogate such archetypal human concepts as love and marriage, necessity and shelter, desire and responsibility.
Ben-Ner found a model for his own on-screen family dynamic in early vaudeville theatre, especially in the life of Buster Keaton, whose father would throw him around the stage (the origin of the word slapstick). Keatons story was one inspiration for Wild Boy (2004), which also pays homage to François Truffauts 1970 film Wild Child. In Ben-Ners version, his son, Amir, lives in a cave among birds, rabbits, and other animals in his apartment kitchen in New York. The artist sets a levered cardboard trap, captures the wild boy in order to civilize him, and names him Buster, a reborn vaudevillian character embodied by Amir with endearing enthusiasm.
In many of his works, Ben-Ner places a resolute emphasis on building by hand. In Id give it to you if I could but I borrowed it (2006-07), he joins his daughter Elia and son Amir in building a bicycle from such readymades as Duchamps Bicycle Wheel (1913) and Picassos bicycle-seat-and handlebar sculpture Bulls Head (1943). Coupled with the unsophisticated production values of his videos and installations, this stress on the handmade is one aspect of his promotion of the poorly made as an accessible foundation for learning and creativity.
Silent film is also an important inspiration for Ben-Ners work. He uses this technique in several of his videos, as a tribute to this form of filmmaking.
Three works by Ron Mueck from the NGCs collection form part of the exhibition: the small-scale Old Woman in Bed (2000), the giant-size Head of a Baby (2003), and the recently acquired mammoth sculpture entitled A Girl (2006). In addition, the NGC has recently purchased two works by Guy Ben-Ner, which can be seen in Real Life: Treehouse Kit (2005), the installation he created for the 2005 Venice Biennale, and Stealing Beauty (2007), a video filmed in IKEA® stores around the globe.
Curator of the exhibition
Read Life is curated by Jonathan Shaughnessy, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the NGC. In 2007, he was the curator of One, Some, Many: 3 Shows by Carsten Höller, displayed at Shawinigan Space. He also collaborated in the organization of two exhibitions Cai Guo-Qiang: Long Scroll (2006) and The Elements of Nature (2005) also presented at Shawinigan Space. In 2006, he co-organized Art Metropole: The Top 100, exhibited at the NGC. As well, he curated Ron Mueck, presented in Ottawa by the NGC in 2007.