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“How many times is a sculpture sculpted?” one of the docent performers asks in The Return, an interactive digital piece staged alongside Tullio Lombardo’s “Adam” (1490–95) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The answer is that everything is in constant flux due to time, but “Adam” had two major points of creation: his Italian Renaissance sculpting and the 12-year restoration after his pedestal buckled in 2002 and the marble statue smashed into bits.
The Return opened last Saturday, running through museum hours until August 2. It’s directed by Reid Farrington, who last year at Coil Festival presented Tyson vs. Ali, a match between the two boxers that never happened, imagined with both video and live performance. Similarly The Return involves actors in the small gallery where the meticulously reconstructed “Adam” was unveiled last November. One serves as a docent for visitors while in the Egyptian Wing’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, another performer plays Adam through motion capture technology, a realtime avatar responding on a six-foot screen in the gallery. This theater is open to visitors who want to witness the tech behind the piece.
“We try to create work that’s very specific to the Met as opposed to a touring concert or something that could happen anywhere else,” Limor Tomer, general manager of concerts and lectures, told Hyperallergic. She cited a recent collaboration the museum had with the Civilians theater group in the Temple of Dendur, and La Celestina, a digitally mapped opera in the Vélez Blanco Patio by performance company ERRATICA and shadow puppet specialists Manual Cinema. “It’s about how you do theater in an authentic way in a museum,” she said.
On entering the “Adam” statue’s gallery, which will soon become the museum’s new Venetian Sculpture of the Renaissance gallery, audience members select short stories represented by broken statue fragments. For example, the hand grasping the apple, held upside down in an attempt to hide the fateful bite taken from it, returns viewers to the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden.
“We’re trying to tell the story in a factual way, but give it an emotional color so you can hear it,” Director Farrington said. He noted there’s a parallel between the fall of Adam and the fall of the statue, and the script by Sara Farrington explores this history with the avatar actor taking on various personas, including Adam of the Old Testament, Tullio’s Adam, and a digital Adam based on the 3D scans made of the sculpture during the long period of conservation. “What was important to us was to tell a story that could reach a large audience,” Farrington added.
There’s definitely an effort for contemporary humor that might get a little grating if you lingered in the gallery all day (for example, a Digital Adam that despairs about never aging is transformed into a bearded statue complaining about $4.50 coffees and “kids today”). These skits are clearly meant to engage people briefly, albeit much longer than they would ordinarily stay with a single work of art. Farrington noted that due to our familiarity with screens, paintings and two dimensional works can often feel more accessible than sculpture, which requires more interaction from the viewer. “You walk from left to right and there’s a change to his expression, a shame to biting the apple,” he said.
The Return is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) from July 11 to August 2.