As breathtaking as they are, there are a couple of fundamental problems with Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel frescoes: They’re in Italy, and they’re on a very high ceiling.
The new touring exhibit “Up Close: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel” solves both of those problems by recreating life-size reproductions of the famous Renaissance paintings.
Opening June 23 in the suitably dramatic setting of The Oculus inside downtown Manhattan’s Westfield World Trade Center, “Up Close” is made up of museum-quality images taken by photographer Erich Lessing of the master’s many frescoes adorning the ceilings of The Vatican’s most famous church.
The 34 near life-size paintings include iconic masterpieces such as “The Creation of Adam” (which was just at the center of a controversy after a black artist created her own version with black women) and a towering depiction of “The Last Judgment” that, at four stories tall, looms over the rest of the exhibit.
Michelangelo painted the frescoes between 1508 and 1512 at the insistence of Pope Julius II. Though Michelangelo had primarily been a sculptor up until the commission, he leaned into the challenge and ended up painting 300 figures in all, considered hallmarks of the High Renaissance style and a template for generations of artists after him.
Contrary to popular belief, he painted the ceilings while standing up, which sounds pretty much like torture. No one likes a showoff, Mikey, your peers were already impressed.
“Up Close” arranges the paintings with plenty of room to get as close or as far away as you like, which beats jostling with hordes of tourists only to end up with a crick in your neck from staring up. Yes, you probably already know these paintings well, but there’s something to be said for appreciating the artist’s effort, which really only comes when you can see their sheer size and put your nose right up to the brushstrokes.
Tickets for the exhibit start at $15, with an optional audio guide (available in four languages) for $3. “Up Close” is open daily, and will remain on display through July 23; after that, it sets off on an eight-city tour of Westfield properties across the country, beginning in New Jersey then moving on to Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago and Annapolis, Maryland.