Since the last time I visited the Hirshhorn Museum in D.C. a few years ago, which was the first time I’d been since I was maybe seven years old, one work of art has remained fixated in my mind and left within me a lasting, emotional impression.
Big Man, by Ron Mueck, is a larger-than-life sculpture of a round, hunched, naked, scowling man. In person, I found him to be breathtaking. He bears a look of tired frustration across his brow and jaw, and fleshy curves across his abdomen. His skin is wrinkled, dimpled, and splotched.
In stark contrast to how we idolize, sexualize, objectify, and emblazon women’s bodies throughout everyday life, and ubiquitously through print and visual media (looking at you, vendors at the Maryland Renaissance Festival this year, whose art featured erect nipples on every half-naked woman I saw), we showcase men’s naked bodies for two purposes: either to demonstrate power and inspire fear, if their muscles are toned and bulging; or to make us laugh, if they are not. Big Man does neither.
The more time I have spent naked — or, these days, clothed but wanting to be naked — the more I have come to appreciate the everyday beauty of the natural human form, in all its glory (…and folds). That’s why I found this piece uniquely refreshing. Big Man feels genuine, vulnerable, and relatable.
To the artist, thank you for bringing attention to the humility and mystique of the kind of body we overlook every day in our superficial quest for unachievable perfection.