Art Fly: "Lifelike" at NOMA

Vija Celmins, Eraser, 1967. Acrylic on balsa wood. Collection Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach; Gift of Avco Financial Services, Newport Beach.

Editor's Note

Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving! Resident art fly Rachel Gorman dishes on her trip to "Lifelike" at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Hello again, Turkeys! It’s Cyber Monday, formerly known simply as the Monday after Thanksgiving. After a weekend of turkey sandwiches, I hope you’re hungry for the kind of soul food you can’t find at the bottom of a Tupperware container because I’m back to file a report from the New Orleans Museum of Art.

If your extended clan decided a few nights crashing on your couch just wasn’t enough this holiday and you now need something to stare at besides each other, consider taking everyone to see “Lifelike.” This show has something for everyone, featuring so many familiar names that when I toured it, I felt like I was home for the holidays. Or, to be more specific, that time I was home for the holidays and found all of my old buddies in my parents’ kitchen…tripping.

The range of works is incredible—55 artists who take objects out of their usual contexts, construct them with unexpected materials, or play with their sizes in an effort to jar the viewer into considering the “boundaries between the real and fabricated.” Here, Andy Warhol’s Yellow Brillo Box and White Brillo Box, 1964, and Jasper Johns' Bread, 1969, share the same room, calling attention to the artful aesthetics of the most basic everyday objects. Works mimicking commonplace functional items are masterly and meticulously handcrafted or built from exquisitely rare materials to introduce the idea of the creative process as the artwork rather than the product itself. These works will surprise you into questioning the nature of the objects you find yourself surrounded by regularly.

Works that unnerve by the nature of their scale are also well represented here. There’s the hyper-realistic but disconcertingly small Crouching Boy in Mirror, 1999-2000, by Ron Mueck, a folding table and chairs by Robert Therrien so dazzlingly large that they dwarf the entire gallery space and everyone in it, and two tiny mechanized elevators by Maurizio Cattelan that beep and open so realistically I expected to see a tiny white-collar worker emerge. Together they have an almost hallucinatory effect (an effect nodded to no doubt by the inclusion of Roxy Paine’s polymer mushrooms “growing” from the gallery wall). I spent half the time walking around the gallery wholly unsure if a blocked off room or a curtain divide was “real” or “art” until I caught myself and realized: whoa dude, that’s exactly the point.

As evidenced by Jonathan Seliger’s Heartland, 2010, a nearly 9-foot-tall exact scale replica of a milk carton currently showcased in the middle of the museum staircase, "Lifelike" has got enough wholesome, nostalgic, and totally bizarre pieces to appeal to kids, parents, and that one weird uncle who regularly suffers acid flashbacks to enjoy. Make no mistake, it’s an art history lesson, an important contribution to a conversation about the nature of “authenticity,” and a lens through which we can re-examine assumptions we make about the function and aesthetics of our everyday lives. It’s also art that makes for an awesome spectacle, the kind of experience that gives kids (and adults) a foundational appreciation for the visual arts as “cool” that they can build upon later. I gleefully recognized myself in the children I saw dragging their parents around the galleries by the arm and sliding down the stairs of the museum. These kids were plain having fun with the art not even realizing that they were being intellectually stimulated in the process. Just like your aunt’s broccoli-cheddar casserole, the nourishing brain food of the show is dished out secretly—all wrapped up in bright, sometimes wonderfully cheesy, kid-friendly bites.

Editor's Note

So that’s the report for now. I’ll be back soon enough—NOMA’s "Lifelike" may have been a visual feast, but I’m always hungry for more. Until next time…