Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now) at The Met Breuer, March 21 – July 22, 2018

Photographs by Corrado Serra.

“From the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, artists working in the Western classical tradition favored idealized statuary. Typically, marble sculptures of the flawless human form were set high on pedestals and made otherworldly by their lack of color. By contrast, within the same period we also encounter highly realistic sculptures intended to persuade us that some kind of life is present. The contexts for such works were wildly divergent—for worship, to record anatomical discovery, and for popular entertainment. Challenging widely accepted notions of great sculpture, these lifelike figures were relegated to art’s aesthetic margins. With the advent of modernism in the twentieth century, the relevance of figuration and realism was further questioned. Artists have nonetheless continued to engage with the intellectual and psychological potency, the uncanniness and visceral power, of the sculpted body’s ability to resemble life.

Arranged thematically, works from fourteenth-century Europe to the global present are juxtaposed to explore how and why artists blur distinctions between original and replica, between life and art. Contending with the traditions of Western aesthetics, yet often going beyond that canon, artists have taken approaches that are surprisingly similar. Foremost among them is the use of color to mimic skin. Others include the use of pliable, fleshy materials such as wax or the integration of clothing, human hair, and textiles. Despite these material similarities, the sculptures on view embody dramatically shifting attitudes, some profoundly disturbing, toward gender, race, class, sexuality, and religion over seven hundred years.

Like Life thus provides a point of departure for examining historical and contemporary preconceptions of what constitutes a work of art, as well as emotional, physical, and aesthetic responses to the human body across time.” — Introductory Wall Text

Exhibition view of section “The Presumption of White”

Left: Frank Benson, Human Statue, 2005. Right: Jeff Koons, Michael Jackson and Bubbles, 1988

Exhibition view of section “Likeness”

Front: Tip Toland, The Whistlers, 2005

Right: Johan Gregor van der Schardt, Self-portrait, ca. 1573

Exhibition view of section “Likeness”

Rigoberto Torres, Shorty Working in the C & R Statuary Corp. 1985 and Raul with Bust of Ruth Fernandez, 1998

Duane Hanson, Housewife, 1969–1970

Exhibition view of section “Desire for Life”

Left:  Jeff Koons, Buster Keaton, 1988. Right: Palmesel, 15th century

Left: Edgar Degas, The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer, model executed ca. 1880, cast 1922. Right: Yinka Shonibare MBE, Girl Ballerina, 2007

Exhibition view of section “Proxy Figures”

Hans Bellmer, La Demi-poupée, 1972

Left: Mary Sibande, Rubber Soul, Monument of Aspiration, 2011. Right: Elmgreen & Dragset, The Experiment, 2012

Exhibition view of section “Layered Realities”

Right: Sokari Douglas Camp, Material Salsa, 2011

Exhibition view of section “Figuring Flesh”

Title image: Duane Hanson, Housepainter II, 1984

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.