“Lifelike” exhibit showcases realistic but unconventional pieces


Courtesy of the Marian Goodman Gallery

Maurizio Cattelan's work "Untitled" features small elevators and is part of the exhibit "Lifelike" at the Blanton Museum of Art.

Chin Lin Pan

Ding! goes a set of tiny elevators carved into a wall. The doors open.

A curious little girl asks, “Do they really work?”

“They don’t go anywhere," replies her father. "They just look realistic.”

The set of tiny elevators is one of 75 works of contemporary art that the Blanton Museum of Art is showcasing in its new exhibit, “Lifelike,” from June 23 to Sept. 22, organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

The wide range of media, coming from a diverse group of multigenerational and international artists, in the exhibit includes paintings, sculptures, photographs, drawings and videos from the 1960s to present time. The exhibit is split up into five themes: Common Objects, The Uncanny, Realism into Abstraction, Handmade Sleight of Hand and Special Effects: The Real as Spectacle.

Under the Common Objects theme, artists from the 1960s and 1970s take ordinary objects and details from everyday life and accentuate them for viewers by using methods taken from pop art. For example, Latvian-American visual artist Vija Celmins created what appears at first sight to be a gigantic pink eraser. Erasers go unnoticed in everyday life but Celmins forces viewers to look closer and think about common objects.

The Uncanny theme centers on artwork from the 1980s and 1990s that resonate as familiar yet strange with a psychologically unsettling vibe.

English filmmaker, photographer and visual artist Sam Taylor-Wood created a time-lapsed video of a bowl of fruit that rots over time. Seeing the fruit rot in action is both familiar and strange because it, in a way, symbolizes death.

The Realism into Abstraction theme is actually what the title implies — realistic artwork that resembles abstract artwork.
Japanese-American artist Kaz Oshiro created a set of speakers that resemble Sony speakers. According to the Blanton's curator of modern and contemporary art Veronica Roberts this artwork “riffs on Donald Judd stacked cubes and Sony speakers but which are in fact meticulously handcrafted.” Standing from a decent distance, the set of speakers look like abstract stripes on a painting.

Concerning the Handmade Sleight of Hand theme, Roberts points out that the artists’ pieces “refer to something being crafted meticulously by hand and at the same time conjuring something made in a factory.”

Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei created a jar of 1,000 sunflower seeds. Each seed is sculpted from porcelain and painted by hand. While they look like real sunflower seeds, they actually mimic real seeds.

When visitor Fran Brochstein browsed through the exhibit, she found the “Rain/Regen” video by Thomas Demand very fascinating. The 4-minute video shot in 35 millimeter film belongs under Special Effects: The Real as Spectacle theme, and Demand creates a fictional world with an animation of candy wrappers to the audio of eggs frying on a pan. At first sight, it looks and sounds like rain.

“The artist shot the video with candy wrappers to the beat of the rain," Brochstein said. "I’m mesmerized at how the artists [of this exhibit] take everyday items and look at them as pieces of art.” 

Among the themes of “Lifelike,” Roberts jokes of an underlying theme that resonates.

“There’s a funny sub-theme — cigarettes," Roberts said. "The most we’ll ever see at the Blanton.”

Samantha Youngblood, Manager of Public Relations and Marketing at the Blanton, explains that the Blanton is the last museum to showcase the “Lifelike” exhibit.

“This is the last chance for people to see a playful, whimsical exhibit," Youngblood said. "It’s something different — we try to showcase art that is thought-provoking and unexpected and that people may not often see in Austin.”

Some visitors, like Tristan Fitch, appreciate the exhibit because it opens up their eyes and minds to the artwork itself and other art.

“What’s really impressed me is not the art itself but looking at materials used to create them," Fitch said. "The artists created an original yet strange view of art, and it gives you new perspective on art you already know.”

Roberts praises “Lifelike” in that it creates a reaction from its viewers.
“I have observed that the exhibition has a wonderful way of inspiring wonder and curiosity in people,” Roberts said. “I especially like seeing people enter the Blanton and register that there are a dozen pencils marooned above the information desk. Some pass by it without noticing but I catch other people looking up, baffled and amused.”

The exhibit will run at the Blanton Museum of Art through Sept. 22.

This article has been updated to reflect accuracy.