Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300–Now)

https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/like-life

Mar 21 2018 - Jul 22 2018

The Met Breuer

New York City, NY


Seven hundred years of sculptural practice—from 14th-century Europe to the global present—will be 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 will draw 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, 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 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, Anna Morandi Manzolini, , 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.


Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website
Image: Greer Lankton, Rachel (detail) (1986). Collection Eric Ceputis and David W. Williams. Image courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Whether or not you go, the exhibition catalogue, Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body, explores how artists from the European Renaissance to the global present have used sculpture and color to evoke the presence of the living body. Since the earliest myths of the sculptor Pygmalion bringing a statue to life through desire, artists have explored the boundaries between sculpture and the physical materiality of the body. This groundbreaking volume examines key sculptural works from 13th-century Europe to the present, revealing new insights into the strategies artists deploy to blur the distinction between art and life. 

Sculpture, which has historically taken the human figure as its subject, is presented here in myriad manifestations created by artists ranging from Donatello and Degas to Picasso, Kiki Smith, and Jeff Koons. Featuring works created in traditional media such as wood and marble as well as the unexpected such as wax, metal, and blood, the book presents sculpture both conventional and shocking, including effigies, dolls, mannequins, automata, waxworks, and anatomical models. Containing texts by art and cultural historians as well as interviews with contemporary artists, this is a provocative exploration of three-dimensional representations of the human body.

Select Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body to learn more or to place the catalogue in your Amazon shopping cart.

  • Sculpture
  • International
  • Donatello
  • El Greco
  • Anna Morandi Manzolini
  • Jean-Léon Gérôme
  • Antonio Canova
  • Auguste Rodin
  • Edgar Degas
  • Louise Bourgeois
  • Isa Genzken
  • Meret Oppenheim
  • Duane Hansen
  • Jeff Koons
  • and others

Venues & Dates