NEW YORK—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.
Juxtaposing well-known masterpieces with surprising and little-seen works, the exhibition brings together sculptures by artists from Donatello, El Greco, Anna Morandi Manzolini, 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 Hansen, 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.