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
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.