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.”

“To the Son of Man Who Ate the Scroll, 2016. Android, plastic coat, expandable foam shoe, and cardboard and linen shoe.” - Goshka Macuga, Polish, born 1967 “Part human, part robot, the android is a consummate figure for reflection on the boundaries between man and machine. He recites a monologue comprising spliced excerpts from notable writings and speeches; from Thomas Paine and Albert Einstein to Ayn Rand and Martin Luther King Jr.”

“To the Son of Man Who Ate the Scroll, 2016. Android, plastic coat, expandable foam shoe, and cardboard and linen shoe.” – Goshka Macuga, Polish, born 1967
“Part human, part robot, the android is a consummate figure for reflection on the boundaries between man and machine. He recites a monologue comprising spliced excerpts from notable writings and speeches; from Thomas Paine and Albert Einstein to Ayn Rand and Martin Luther King Jr.”

Paul Hout, French, flourished 1790s-1820s - “Lay Figure, ca 1790: wood, metal, flax, silk, and painted gesso on papier-mache.” “An emphasis on this mannequin’s feminine aspects; from the delicate, blushed features on her paper-mache visage to the soft curves of her flax-stuffed silhouette------suggests the erotic potential of the lay figure as the passive stand-in for the female model. As such, the figure doubles as an artist’s tool and potential object of psychosexual desire, one that anticipates Surrealist manipulations of the mannequin as inanimate muse and deviant plaything.”

Paul Hout, French, flourished 1790s-1820s – “Lay Figure, ca 1790: wood, metal, flax, silk, and painted gesso on papier-mache.”
“An emphasis on this mannequin’s feminine aspects; from the delicate, blushed features on her paper-mache visage to the soft curves of her flax-stuffed silhouette suggests the erotic potential of the lay figure as the passive stand-in for the female model. As such, the figure doubles as an artist’s tool and potential object of psychosexual desire, one that anticipates Surrealist manipulations of the mannequin as inanimate muse and deviant plaything.”

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.

“Old Woman in Bed, 2000: Silicone rubber, polyester resin, cotton, polyurethane foam, polyester, and oil paint.” “Mueck’s figures are hyper-realistically rendered but are nevertheless uncanny in their unexpected scale, giving them a surprising emotional and psychological charge. Finally, the elderly woman’s isolation on the gallery plinth underscores the inevitable solitude in which sleep is experienced and life is departed.”

“Old Woman in Bed, 2000: Silicone rubber, polyester resin, cotton, polyurethane foam, polyester, and oil paint.”
“Mueck’s figures are hyper-realistically rendered but are nevertheless uncanny in their unexpected scale, giving them a surprising emotional and psychological charge. Finally, the elderly woman’s isolation on the gallery plinth underscores the inevitable solitude in which sleep is experienced and life is departed.”

“Lay Figure, before 1806: wood, metal and paint.” by Bertel Thorvald, Danish, 1770-1844. “This lay figure, or artist’s mannequin, comprises finely carved wooden pieces that are attached at hinged joints, which allow it to be manipulated into different poses. The figure’s capacity to imitate bodily gestures gives it a human quality, which is antithetical to the gracefully dramatic poses of the artist’s marble sculptures.”

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.

“Doll in a Box, British: wood, paint, glass, human hair, silk. Linen, and metal foil; box (American): white pine, crown glass, and paint. ca. 1748” – “In the eighteenth century, English fashion dolls were exported to North America as sophisticated toys for young girls. Dressmakers also put such dolls in their windows to advertise the latest European fashions.”

Sarah Lucas, British, born 1962
“Nud Cycladic 9, 2010: nylon, synthetic fiber, concrete, and steel wire”
“Made from stuffed hosiery, this work bulges with biomorphic tentacles that have the appearance of intestines or intertwined limbs.”

“Strange Fruit, 1995. Tin alloy, wood, dirt, found objects, rope, and paint.” - Alison Saar, American born 1956. “Pointedly taking inspiration from the haunting evocation of lynching in a song immortalized by Billie Holiday (1915-1959), Strange Fruit presents a black female nude as a critical subject rather than merely a body on which violence is inflicted.”

“Strange Fruit, 1995. Tin alloy, wood, dirt, found objects, rope, and paint.” – Alison Saar, American born 1956.
“Pointedly taking inspiration from the haunting evocation of lynching in a song immortalized by Billie Holiday (1915-1959), Strange Fruit presents a black female nude as a critical subject rather than merely a body on which violence is inflicted.”

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.

“Untitled a.k.a. The Sitter, 1992: wax, cheesecloth, wood and dye” - Kiki Smith, American born 1954 “Wax and cloth mimic the translucency, porousness, and fragility of skin, evident in the deep open wounds gouged into the figure’s back, which establishes her as an abject survivor of physical as well as existential violence.”

“Untitled a.k.a. The Sitter, 1992: wax, cheesecloth, wood and dye” – Kiki Smith, American born 1954
“Wax and cloth mimic the translucency, porousness, and fragility of skin, evident in the deep open wounds gouged into the figure’s back, which establishes her as an abject survivor of physical as well as existential violence.”

Phillippe Curtis, Swiss, 1737-1794 “Sleeping Beauty, 1989, after 1765 original: gold leaf, wood, velvet upholstery, beeswax, human hair, fiberglass, alloy and steel servo, slush wax, silk and lace.” “Lifelike images of swooning and cataleptic women known as Sleeping Beauties became popular forms of fairground entertainment in the eighteenth century. Male onlookers took pleasure in viewing these passive female bodies and determining whether they were real or robotic. The Swiss wax modeler Curtisus based this automaton on a figure of public titillation, Louis XV’s famous mistress Madame du Barry.”

“Sleeping Beauty, 1989, after 1765 original: gold leaf, wood, velvet upholstery, beeswax, human hair, fiberglass, alloy and steel servo, slush wax, silk and lace.” – Phillippe Curtis, Swiss, 1737-1794
“Lifelike images of swooning and cataleptic women known as Sleeping Beauties became popular forms of fairground entertainment in the eighteenth century. Male onlookers took pleasure in viewing these passive female bodies and determining whether they were real or robotic. The Swiss wax modeler Curtisus based this automaton on a figure of public titillation, Louis XV’s famous mistress Madame du Barry.”

Duane Hanson, American, 1925-1996 “Housewife, 1969-1970: polyester, resin, and fiberglass, polychromed in oil and mixed media, with accessories” “Hanson’s typically lower and middle-class characters are empathetically portrayed in private or mundane moments; their appearance is at once startlingly present yet distinctly at odds in a gallery setting, where they are encountered almost voyeuristically, thus amplifying their isolation.”

“Housewife, 1969-1970: polyester, resin, and fiberglass, polychromed in oil and mixed media, with accessories” – Duane Hanson, American, 1925-1996.
“Hanson’s typically lower and middle-class characters are empathetically portrayed in private or mundane moments; their appearance is at once startlingly present yet distinctly at odds in a gallery setting, where they are encountered almost voyeuristically, thus amplifying their isolation.”

Juan Munoz, Spanish, 1953-2001
“Sarah with Blue Dress, 1996: acrylic on polyester resin and mirror”
“Munoz introduces Sarah, a dwarf the artist knew, to propose a shifted perspective on the world, challenging how we might perceive and understand our own realities. The artist connects both the acts of looking and becoming by painting Sarah’s eyes and dress the same blue hue, which is visible in her reflection in the mirror.”

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.

http://www.pleasekillme.com