Seven hundred years of sculptural practice—from fourteenth-century Europe to the global present—are examined anew in this groundbreaking exhibition. Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now) explores narratives of sculpture in which artists have sought to replicate the literal, living presence of the human body. On view exclusively at The Met Breuer, this major international loan exhibition of about 120 works draws on The Met's rich collections 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. Like Life, by contrast, places 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 moveable 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 common humanity.
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 highlight the continuing anxieties and pleasures attendant upon the three-dimensional simulation of the human body.
"Mind-blowing. . . . The show is a cornucopia with something, or many things, for everyone." —New Yorker
"Awash with flabbergasting loans and encounters. . . . an outstanding theme show." —New York Times
"Equal parts astonishing, creepy, and daring . . ." —Brooklyn Rail
"A scholarly yet visceral, and sometimes wrenching, confrontation with three-dimensional representations of the human figure in all its glory, grotesquerie and sensuality." —Art Newspaper
"Triumphs as a radical rethinking of . . . contemporary art within the context of [The Met's] encyclopedic collection." —Time Out
The exhibition is supported in part by the Jane and Robert Carroll Fund and The Modern Circle.
The catalogue is made possible by the Mary C. and James W. Fosburgh Publications Fund.
Left: Willem Danielsz van Tetrode, Hercules, ca. 1545–60. Painted terracotta. The Quentin Foundation, London. Photo: Maggie Nimkin, New York. Right: Greer Lankton, Rachel, 1986. Papier-mâché, metal plates, wire, acrylic paint, and matte medium. Collection of Eric Ceputis and David W. Williams, promised gift to the Art Institute of Chicago. Greer Lankton Archives Museum. Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY.