Yesterday, after a blood donation appointment, I decided to do something non-strenuous, something I hadn’t done in a while. So I headed over to the Art Gallery of Alberta.

The place is in temporary digs in Enterprise Square (old Bay building, for you expat Edmontonians). Their new location is under construction, slated to open early in the new year. You can have a gander at the progress on this webcam.

The main reason I came was to catch the Ron Mueck exhibit. You’ve likely seen some of his ultra-real sculpture elsewhere on the web; I won’t bother to give any links to his stuff, there’s tons of pictures and video out there, just have a wee google and you’ll find it.

Two of Mueck’s pieces are currently on exhibit at the AGA: “A Girl” and “Old Woman in Bed”. The first is a newborn baby girl:

Very realistic – and very large. From head to toe, she’s about 10 feet long. The attention to detail is astonishing; tiny veins, moisture, smears of blood here and there from the birth, the fine hairs on the head. But it’s the size that’s so arresting.

Mueck’s other work also plays with scale – one of his largest sculptures so far is of a crouching boy, 5 metres tall! – and to me, it’s the sculptor’s equivalent of the closeup in film. The subject is so large that it’s inescapable.

One observation I found amusing and unnerving: the baby’s right eye is partially open, and if you stand in front of the head and look down, a deep blue eye like all newborns have, writ large, is staring up at you through a slitted lid – an ocean of defiance.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the other piece:

The platform is about 2 feet by 3 feet. The woman’s head would fit under your hand.

It’s the most moving art I’ve seen in quite some time. The skin is pale, parchment-thin, like most people near the end of life, utterly convincing. You almost expect to hear breathing. But again, it’s the scale that gives the piece its power.

I can recall having experienced people at or near death as being somehow smaller physically than I remember them when they were more vital. Mueck cuts straight to the heart of it by actually reducing the size.

If you live in Edmonton, don’t miss the chance to see these pieces – they’ll be leaving after September 7. If you live elsewhere, hopefully they’ll come to a gallery near you; if they do, don’t take the time to see them, or any Ron Mueck exhibit for that matter. The material on the web gives you a sense of the experience, but actually being in their presence is a quantum leap beyond seeing pictures or video, and is really the only way they can be adequately experienced.

Please, AGA, if you can afford it, more Mueck!