Wax effigies, mannequins and reliquaries will be among the uncanny and often unsettling works on display at a Met Breuer exhibition exploring artists’ attempts to replicate the living presence of the human body.
“Just how perfectly should figurative sculpture resemble the human body?” asks the exhibition “Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300-Now)”, which goes on view March 21 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s modern and contemporary art annex in Manhattan.
In contrast to idealized representations of the human form, exemplified by the white marble statues of classical tradition, this exhibition will feature sculpture that blurs the distinctions between original and copy, and between life and art, with often unsettling results.
Seven hundred years of sculptural practice will be seen through this frame, with a focus on the techniques used to realize lifelike sculptures of all kinds.
Tactics include the application of color to imitate skin and flesh, the use of casts taken from real bodies, sculpted figures dressed in clothing, the use of movable limbs and automated bodies, and perhaps the oddest of them all works using real human blood, hair, teeth and bones.
Perhaps the most unusual of the oddities on display will be a wax figure of 18-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham, built around Bentham’s own skeleton, dressed in his clothes and seated in a wooden cabinet; when not at the Met Breuer, this “Auto-Icon” greets visitors at University College London.
Throughout the show, masterpieces will be juxtaposed with lesser-known works — with sculptures by Rodin, Degas, Louise Bourgeois, Jeff Koons and Yinka Shonibare among them — as the museum highlights the “anxieties and pleasures” of viewing such 3D simulations of the human form.
“Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300-Now)” will be at the Met Breuer from March 21 to July 22. JB