Is it Real? “Lifelike” Calls Into Question Viewer Preceptions

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.

Vija Celmins, Eraser

Vija Celmins, “Eraser,” 1967, acrylic on balsa wood, Collection of the Orange County Museum of Art

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.

Hefty 2-Ply artwork by Jud Nelson

Jud Nelson, “Hefty 2-Ply,” 1979-1981, marble, Collection Walker Art Center

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 experience.

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 22Lifelike 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

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