Artists and artisans have been intrigued and inspired by the topic of death and visions of life thereafter for millennia. Afterlives: Contemporary Art in the Byzantine Crypt brings together modern-day works that reckon with death and visualize the afterlife and Byzantine Egyptian funerary art and artifacts in part of the Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries known as the Byzantine Crypt (Gallery 302). The intimate and enchanting gallery with exposed brick walls and arched portals was unveiled in the year 2000 after a renovation that reclaimed the space beneath the Museum’s Grand Staircase. In this transhistorical presentation, the Byzantine Crypt’s religious and secular jewelry, textiles, ivory objects, vessels, and architectural sculpture from Early Christian and Coptic monastic sites are complemented and enriched by contemporary sculptures, works on paper, and installations from the 1960s to present day that similarly serve as memorials, reliquaries, and tokens to ward off evil.
This exhibition includes work from the following artists, among others: Ana Mendieta, Gabriel Orozco, Taryn Simon, Tavares Strachan, Adrian Piper, Louise Bourgeois, Walid Raad, and Alwar Balasubramaniam,
"Appearing as a pile of human skin cast to the floor, this sculpture made of sandstone belies its material. To produce it, the artist recast a plaster form of his own body using fiberglass and molded rubber. Subsequent castings and manipulations resulted in this machine-carved and hand-finished version. Balasubramaniam began making casts of his body in the early 2000s. He describes these as "traces" and "signs of a former presence … the sculpture is nothing but a trace of myself." Throughout his practice, the artist investigates the threshold between presence and absence, materiality and immateriality, the physical and spiritual, the object and space. In this unnerving sculpture, the body appears to be withered away, no longer a mass but a mere shell, suggesting the precariousness between life and death."
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