A new exhibit at the Met Breuer, ‘Like Life: Sculpture, Color, And The Body’ will blow your mind and could change your life
photos by Larry Baumhor
You have until July 22nd to visit Like Life: Sculpture, Color And The Body (1300-Now), the stunning exhibit at the Met Breuer. If you’re any type of creative person you dare not miss it. And if you’re not a creative person, the exhibit of 120 human, or human-like, sculptures spanning eight centuries is one of the most critically acclaimed in the recent history of New York museums.
New York Times art critic Roberta Smith said, of Like Life, “…Welcome to the dollhouse, the morgue, the cabinet of curiosities, the surgical amphitheater, the last days of Christ (and the French monarchy); the circus, the sideshow, the travails of Christian martyrs and the Greek Golden Age as resurrected by the Romans, the Renaissance and Neo-Classicism. Many pieces will radically expand your sense of an artist’s sensibility or achievement.”
It’s an exhibit about the human body and human face, which is to say it is an exhibit about feelings: good, bad, and ugly. Bring a bag with you in case you have to throw up or tissues in case you tear up, and be aware that your synapses will release endorphins that may put you in an altered state. You’ll walk into a bizarre world of opposites, juxtapositions from antiquity to modern times. You’ll be haunted and loved. Death is beautiful, it seems to tell you, because the inanimate sculptures on view possess a surreal aesthetic that is transforming and mesmerizing.
One, in particular, possesses the actual bones of the subject—British philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). In his will, Bentham stipulated that his body be dissected for science and that his skeleton be preserved in a wooden cabinet as an “auto-icon,” permanently on display at University College, where he taught for many years. The skeleton was dressed in Bentham’s clothes, filled out with padding to simulate his real body. And here it is, in Like Life, the first time it has ever left the college.
The New Yorker said, “Mindblowing . . . The show is a cornucopia with something, or many things, for everyone.”
As you gawk, the sculptures seem to be talking to you, and all of a sudden you’re not in this world and you believe in the beauty of death, as well as the serenity of life. You experience something you’re not quite sure of. Yes, you’re looking at flesh, or simulated flesh, with an internal inquisitiveness and beauty that you don’t understand, a visceral experience, an explosion of existential form. You don’t want to leave this exhibit. You want to stay in this make-believe world.
Art Newspaper said, of Like Life, “A scholarly yet visceral, and sometimes wrenching, confrontation with three-dimensional representations of the human figure in all its glory, grotesquerie and sensuality.”
The exhibit begs the questions: Who are we and what and why are we here? You feel guilty for loving death and scared for loving objects that are not real, or are they? You’ve entered another galaxy and you feel so relaxed, as though you’re on valium, but you’re bombarded with intensity of shock that pounds your veins. Droplets of tears run down your cheek while happiness envelops your mind. You want to probe further into this mystery. You communicate with the sculptures with silence. You want to fly and live in a coffin. You feel deeply and you’re a blank state. You’re confused and exhilarated.
Welcome to an out-of-body experience. Don’t worry, you’ll be back in the real world soon with the thoughts of returning. After you leave the Met Breuer, you try to come to terms of what just happened to you.
Like Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300-Now)
Through July 22 at the Met Breuer, 945 Madison Avenue, New York, NY; 212-731-1675, metmuseum.org.