A Pink Pearl eraser, cardboard box, drill, and giant plank of plywood—are these items instruments for creativity or masterpieces within themselves? The Blanton Museum of Art entertains this question through its presentation of the whimsical and thought provoking Lifelike. An international, multigenerational exhibition, Lifelike showcases works from prominent contemporary artists including Gerhard Richter, James Casebere, Vija Celmins, Keith Edmier, Robert Gober, and others and illuminates artists’ ongoing infatuation with realism.
Unlike many artists of the 1960s who were lured by the glitz of pop art and the smooth,
glossy accuracy of Photorealism, the contemporary artists featured in Lifelike
take realism in a different direction. Instead of focusing on celebrities or popular culture, these artists depict ordinary, often
disregarded objects. Through sculpture, drawing, painting, and video, Lifelike artists have
recreated common objects with painstaking detail and beguiling accuracy,
blurring the viewer’s perception of reality.
Some of the most fascinating works displayed are those that recreate common objects with surprising materials. Jud Nelson’s Hefty 2-Ply
from 1979-1981 is an example of an object rarely highlighted—a bag of
trash—that here has become elevated to a work of fine art. Nelson executed
the piece in a fashion similar to that of the Baroque sculptor Bernini.
Using a stuffed Hefty trash bag as a model, he created a sculptural copy
from pure Carrara marble. Upon first glance, the work seems out of
place, as if someone’s forgotten garbage was left in the gallery.
On closer examination, however, the material becomes apparent and the
viewer can fully experience the artistic skill and precision that went
into the work. It is these encounters, requiring a double-take and
offering an element of surprise, that give many of the works in Lifelike their humor and metaphoric meaning.
Another work that challenges the viewer’s perception is John Clem Clarke’s Plywood with Roller Marks, #3,
1974. From a distance, this work appears to be a large plank of
plywood. Yet, as the viewer moves closer, brushstrokes become
visible. Knots and wood grain become pure abstraction. Clarke
incorporates elements of Abstract Expressionism with those of
Photorealism to turn a seemingly ordinary object into a unique viewing
Lifelike artists memorialize the most banal subjects and
elicit a child-like wonder from the viewer, as if he or she is
witnessing these everyday objects for the first time. The exhibition also includes a miniature elevator,
life-size kitchen, and even a mouthwatering bowl of Japanese noodles! On view at the Blanton until September 22, Lifelike is a fun and family-friendly way to dive into an uncanny reality.
- Alexandra Clark, former PR and Marketing intern for the Blanton Museum of Art