Expect to encounter immersive whirlpools and replica Buddha statues in the NGV Triennial at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). But the knock-out work at the inaugural triennial is undoubtedly Ron Mueck’s epic installation, Mass (2016-2017) that is comprised of giant skulls displayed throughout the gallery’s permanent art collection.
The Australian artist, whose previous acclaimed projects include Dead Dad (1996/97), a disconcertingly hyperreal depiction of his deceased father in shrunken model form, and A Girl (2006), an uncanny sculpture of a giant baby, premiered his biggest ever installation at the first NGV International.
Mass (2016-2017) is inspired by the complexity of the human skull’s biological structure, which Mueck considers ‘beautiful and extraordinary’.
Having trained as a model maker and with the most impeccable attention detail, Mueck’s installation of 100 hand-cast skulls forms an awe-inspiring and visually intriguing spectacle that emphasises the ‘individual’ in a collective existence.
Each measuring 1.5 metres and collectively weighing over five tonnes, the skulls recall the intensity of the Parisian catacombs as well as the magnitude of human atrocities from conflicts and war.
Here, Mueck – who famously does not speak about his practice, but rather allows his art to do the work, which it does stupendously – brings to life the traditions of Dutch still-life and the vanitas painting genre, in which different symbols such as a skull are used to remind us of our own mortality.
For this reason, Mass (2016-2017) has been placed within NGV International’s historical collections galleries, so as you walk among the installation, feeling dwarfed by both its size and philosophical connotations, you can draw on thematic connections between the collection’s paintings and the skull sculptures.
Once you’ve had your fill of the 100 individual skulls, you can also explore the other works included in the triennial that include, Xu Zhen’s 15-metre-long replica of a reclining Buddha sculpture, Irish artist Richard Mosse’s phenomenal three-channel video about the refugee crisis, a participatory work by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama that invites visitors to cover a purpose-built apartment with flower stickers and teamLab’s immersive digital ‘vortex’ of water that responds to the presence of the audience and their movements.
NGV Triennial is at NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne until April 15, 2018. Free.
Want to see more major art events from around the world? Check out Katharina Grosse’s mega installation at Carriageworks in Sydney.