Body Doubles: Animating Sculpture from Pygmalion to Robotics

Just how perfectly should a sculpture imitate the corporeal human body? Modern histories of Western sculpture have typically shunned extreme illusionism in favor of the austere, white marble statuary of the classical tradition. This talk by Emerson Bowyer explores an alternative narrative, in which artists from the Middle Ages to now have frequently sought to evoke the living presence of the body.

Many strategies used by sculptors questioned the boundaries between art and life. Such tactics include the application of color to imitate skin tone, the use of casts taken from real bodies, the dressing of sculpted bodies in clothing, incorporation of bodily materials (hair, teeth, bones), as well as the construction of moveable limbs and automated figures.

Emerson Bowyer is co-curator of the exhibition Like Life: Sculpture, Color and the Body, organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, to be held at the Met Breuer March 20–July 22, 2018, and co-author of the exhibition catalogue.