25 February–27 May 2012
1750 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55403
Is it real? Lifelike invites a close examination of artworks based on commonplace objects and situations, which are startlingly realistic, often playful, and sometimes surreal. Considering a continued interest in meticulously crafted realism in contemporary art from the 1960s to the present, this international group exhibition features artists variously employing scale, the psychological potential of the uncanny, and sly contextual devices to reveal the manner in which their subjects’ “authenticity” is manufactured.
The several generations of artists in Lifelike investigate the quieter side of the quotidian, choosing potentially overlooked items or moments as subject matter and favoring a handmade, labor-intensive practice. The resulting works transform the ordinary into something beguiling and loaded with narrative and metaphor. The exhibition features some 90 works by more than 50 artists, including Vija Celmins, Keith Edmier, Fischli and Weiss, Robert Gober, Alex Hay, Kaz Oshiro, Charles Ray, and Ai Weiwei.
Lifelike examines a trajectory in art that began in the late 1960s, positioned between Pop and Photorealism, but aligned with neither. Avoiding Pop’s brand-name flashiness and the slick urban scenes of the Photorealists, the artists in Lifelike investigate the quieter side of the quotidian, choosing potentially overlooked items or moments—a paper bag, an eraser, a waiting room, an afternoon nap—as subject matter. The works in the exhibition transform the ordinary into something beguiling, loaded with narrative and metaphor, and imbued with an arresting sense of humanity.
The exhibition explores the many ways artists have pursued handmade verisimilitude through a range of media, including painting, sculpture, photography, drawing, video, and three-dimensional environments. Some artists featured, such as Vija Celmins and Peter Rostovsky, paint from photographs, creating immersive surfaces that exhibit an astonishing degree of likeness and detail. Others work in sculpture, often fashioning their works from materials that belie the pedestrian nature of the subject—Ai Weiwei’s jar of hundreds of sunflower seeds, made from hand-painted cast porcelain, or the work of Yoshihiro Suda, who creates weeds that “grow” from the gallery floor, carved by hand from magnolia wood. In video, artists including Thomas Demand and Jeon Joonho create moving images that at first seem familiar, but deceive us through sly use of animation. In photography, artists including James Casebere and Isaac Layman play with the hyperreal, through fabricated scenes or clever layering of images.
Conspicuously absent in most of the works in Lifelike is a reliance on technological intervention. Instead, in seemingly inverse proportion to the ease of producing goods for the marketplace, many artists are slowing and complicating their own working methods, remaking banal things into objects of fixation and desire: Catherine Murphy’s details of textured fabric on the seat of a chair, or Ron Mueck’s strikingly “real” sculpture—down to the last hair and pore—of human subjects. Frequently these artists work from photographs, but just as often, their inspiration is the observed world, and the notion that a tangible, perhaps ephemeral object or moment can somehow be brought back to life—reinterpreted through the artist’s hand as re-made readymades.
Lifelike is organized by the Walker Art Center and curated by Siri Engberg, curator, visual arts. Lead sponsor: The Private Client Reserve, US Bank. Major support for the exhibition is provided by John L. Thomson and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additional support is generously provided by Peggy and Ralph Burnet, Ellie and Tom Crosby, Jr., and Michael J. Peterman and David A. Wilson.
Collection Ralph and Peggy Burnet, Minneapolis.