NOMA’s ‘Lifelike’ plays on perceptions

Visitors to the New Orleans Museum of Art might feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland as they wander around “Lifelike,’’ a modern and contemporary art exhibition opening Sunday that plays not only with scale but also perceptions of reality.

The first piece they’ll encounter is an 8-foot-tall milk carton, titled “Heartland,’’ an enamel on bronze work by artist Jonathan Selinger.

The theme of everyday objects elevated into what NOMA’s curator of modern art Miranda Lash described as heroic scale, runs through the show: A jumbo-sized pink eraser, a mammoth paper bag and, most epic of all, a set of folding chairs and table by artist Robert Therrien that could comfortably accommodate a poker game for giants.

But the art on display also goes to the other extreme, most notably in a set of tiny elevator doors by artist Maurizio Catella. The highly detailed doors open and close periodically, a work that Lash said is particularly captivating to children.

Works in the exhibit also underscore the difference between the real and the artificial — a video piece titled “New York New York New York’’ actually shows a stage set in Los Angeles.

Artist Keith Edmier recreated the kitchen from the tract house in Chicago where he grew up for a piece titled “Bremen Town,’’ a trip back to the time of harvest gold and avocado green themes.

“Someone asked me, ‘Why is this art?’’’ he said. “My answer is, ‘I don’t know what in the world else it would be.’’’

He described painstaking efforts to recreate the vibrant early 1970s wallpaper from family photographs and to restore a refrigerator and stove. His mother visited the old place and talked the new owners into scraping up a piece of the old tile floor, which still existed in the utility room, so he would have a way to recreate the pattern of the floor.

Edmier said that he worked from house plans to get dimensions correct. But he said that in cases where he had to make a guess, he found that the scale was off by about 20 percent, a spatial relationship he figured had to do with the fact that he was a kid.

“Lifelike,’’ which comes to NOMA from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, is the opening exhibit of NOMA’s new season and will be on display through Jan. 27.

The exhibition, which NOMA Director Susan Taylor said will amuse and engage a number of different museumgoers, will include a family day Saturday with music, a caricaturist, an art-making event inspired by the show called BIG & small Drawings and Sculpting Faux Food as well as a theatrical performance of “Alice in Wonderland,’’ presented by the Skin Horse Theater.

To further the themes explored in the exhibition, the museum screened Lily Tomlin in “The Incredible Shrinking Woman,’’ in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden on Friday night.

Admission to NOMA is free Wednesdays. On other days, admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors 65 and older and $6 for children from 7 to 17. Children 6 and younger are admitted free of charge.