In the middle of Volksgarten park sits a miniature copy of the Theseion in Athens. Built in the early 1820s it was intended to house a single work of contemporary art. Management and content of the space has changed and evolved over the century but since 2012 the original purpose has been brought back to the fore by the Kunsthistoriches Museum and now Ron Mueck's Man in a Boat resides there for the summer.
The work was made while the artist was in residence at the National Gallery in 2002. It is a study of a naked half-sized man sitting alone in a boat. He looks out ahead of him, clutching himself warm against the vulnerability of drifting without sail, paddle or protection. The boat is real, that is to say it's wooden and worn in a way so many others might be found tied along the shoreline. The figure though is beyond real, a mimic of flesh and blood with no discernible seams.
Using complex mixes and compounds of polyester, acrylic resins and fibreglass finished with subtle paint and real hair Mueck creates unarguable clones, more often than not playing with scale and distorting our obvious reactions. To see a baby as big as a man and a man as small as a baby is discombobulating - a sensation entirely other to seeing a celebrity mannequin posing in Madame Tussaud's.
Placed here, within the grand spacious temple, the sole passenger of the little dingy is attracting large crowds. The position of the building by the Museum Quarter lends itself to casual passers by walking out from the city centre - it is in fact the first time Mueck has had a solo show in Austria. The Australian has been based in the UK since the '80s and though his early career was based more on model making for the entertainment industry, working on films such as Labyrinth, he came to more prominence as part of the YBAs in the mid-nineties.
This single piece exhibition, part supported by the British Council, is a strong example of his work. Much like the framing of the piece in situ, there is an opportunity here to imbibe the sculpture with meaning - to look upon this traveller as a surviver, a voyager of a physical or metaphysical journey. To see this work without the hubbub, perhaps early in the morning once the doors have opened, is to see it at its best - the waves and water that aren't in the room no more absent than the purpose of the man's focus.
https://www.khm.at/en/visit/exhibitions/ron-mueck/ until 6th September