While an ambitious attempt to elide culturally and chronologically diverse, popular, scientific, and artistic sculptures of the human body, The Met’s “Like Life” overreaches. The show is ironically shapeless, despite sub-thematic organizational scheme. In addition, the several carved and polychromed Renaissance martyrs and slightly creepy Victorian material (such as effigies of organic matter and death masks), while relevant, are overstated and detract from what is most successful in the show; the gathering of postwar art in this vein.
Duane Hanson, looks great with two characteristic, “dressed” works, especially, Housepainter II (1984), placed directly off an elevator, which adds to the intended effect (is there a repair going on?). Playing on classical statuary, viewer space, the race and class divides in “the art world,” it now also recalls Fred Wilson’s piece, Guarded View (1991), comprised of headless, dark-toned, mannequin-museum guards, installed in roughly the same position for the game-changing Black Male show (1994-95) when this building was the Whitney Museum. That event resonates here in a section entitled “The Presumption of White,” in reference to the European long-held misnomer of Classical monochrome marble statuary (we now know they were mostly painted) of the ancient Mediterraneans, carried through the Renaissance and into the twentieth century. Wilson returns here with take on this institutional racism in, The Mete of the Muse (2004-2007), which juxtaposes casts of appropriated (black) Egyptian and (white) Greek goddess figures.
Peers and heritors of Hanson’s hyper-realism, interestingly, mostly male artists dominate, as signified by the exhibition title. Most of the contributions by woman artists deal with disfigured, flesh-allusive forms à la Louise Bourgeois, who is featured. The final life-like say goes to Goshka Macuga’s startling philosopher-automaton, To The Son of Man who Ate the Scroll (2016), worth seeing—and hearing.
Like-Life: Sculpture, Color, and the Body (1300-Now) The Met Breuer, March 21 – July 22, 2018
Jody B Cutler
Volume 32 no 6 July/August 2018 p 28