Exhibition | Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on March 21, 2018

Press release from The Met:

Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body, 1300–Now
The Met Breuer, New York, 21 March — 22 July 2018

Curated by Luke Syson and Sheena Wagstaff, with Brinda Kumar, Emerson Bowyer, and Elyse Nelson

Seven hundred years of sculptural practice—from 14th-century Europe to the global present—will be examined anew in the groundbreaking exhibition Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now). On view at The Met Breuer from March 21 through July 22, 2018, the exhibition will explore expanded narratives of sculpture through works in which artists have sought to replicate the literal, living presence of the human body. A major international loan exhibition of approximately 120 works, Like Life will draw on The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s rich collection of European sculpture and modern and contemporary art, while also featuring a selection of important works from national and international museums and private collections.

Just how perfectly should figurative sculpture resemble the human body? Histories and theories of Western sculpture have typically favored idealized representations, as exemplified by the austere, white marble statuary of the classical tradition. Such works create the fiction of bodies existing outside time, space, and personal or cultural experience. This exhibition, by contrast, will place key sculptures from different eras in conversation with each other in order to examine the age-old problem of realism and the different strategies deployed by artists to blur the distinctions between original and copy, and life and art. Foremost among these is the application of color to imitate skin and flesh. Other tactics include the use of casts taken from real bodies, dressing sculpted figures in clothing, constructing movable limbs and automated bodies, even incorporating human blood, hair, teeth, and bones. Uncanny in their approximation of life, such works have the potential to unsettle and disarm observers, forcing us to consider how we see ourselves and others, and to think deeply about our shared humanity.

Thomas Southwood Smith and Jacques Talrich, ‘Auto-Icon’ of Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), wax figure built around Bentham’s own skeleton, with human hair, wool, cotton, linen textiles, straw hat, glasses, wood walking stick, table, and chair (London: UCL).

Juxtaposing well-known masterpieces with surprising and little-seen works, the exhibition brings together sculptures by artists from Donatello, El Greco, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Antonio Canova, Auguste Rodin, and Edgar Degas to Louise Bourgeois, Meret Oppenheim, Isa Genzken, Charles Ray, Fred Wilson, Robert Gober, Bharti Kher, Duane Hanson, Jeff Koons, and Yinka Shonibare MBE, as well as wax effigies, reliquaries, mannequins, and anatomical models. Together these works will highlight the continuing anxieties and pleasures attendant upon the three-dimensional simulation of the human body.

Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now) is curated by Luke Syson, Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Chairman of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, and Sheena Wagstaff, Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art, both at The Met, with Brinda Kumar, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Met, and Emerson Bowyer, Searle Associate Curator of European Painting and Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, with the assistance of Elyse Nelson, Research Associate, European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, The Met. The catalogue is made possible by the Mary C. and James W. Fosburgh Publications Fund.

Luke Syson and Sheena Wagstaff, with Emerson Bowyer, Brinda Kumar, Barti Kher, Jeff Koons, Schwartz Hillel, Marina Warner, and Fred Wilson, Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (New York: The Metroplitan Museum of Art, 2018), 312 pages, ISBN: 978 1588396440, $65.

A symposium explores themes raised by the exhibition on Saturday, 14 April 2018, from 10:30am until 6:30pm.


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