Bringing the past tradition of ‘still life’ into contemporary art seems, at first thought, to be a boring quest, one that offers no more than a mundane photograph of your fruit bowl could achieve, but Nature Morte demonstrates the exciting transformation of the genre. With each page that is turned the reader is greeted with bold and engaging images of still life, but not just the flower basket you may at first assume but stunning, horrific, weird and challenging images, that span all mediums and interpretations; from pleasantries to oddities.
The translation of traditional motifs for the modern world is figured with absolute distinction on the front cover; a hologram image, (Sharon Core, Flowers, 1782, 2001, archival pigment print) that literally transforms infront of your eyes. The excitement continues within, as the publication forms a compelling pictorial and literary timeline of the development of still life, consolidating over 400 years of the style and bringing together the provocative re-invigorations of the genre by over 180 international contemporary artists.
400 glossy, extremely high quality images illustrate the timeless themes approached in Nature Morte; such as life, death and the irrevocable passing of time, with artworks that invite us to pause and reconsider what it means to be human. Each heading, artwork and artist is introduced by multiple references, poetry captions, images, quotes and original short texts that are not patronising nor inaccessible, but that offer the reader an acute understanding of the genre that develops throughout reading. Michael Petry’s commentary is perfect throughout, offering an insight into artworks that span a huge range of interpretations, influences, mediums and aesthetics with absolute conviction. Each passage brings enough explanation for the viewer to understand even the most abstract conceptions, whilst also permitting the reader enough space to interpret their own meanings and continue with their passage through the publication. Each page stays fresh and appealing. This range of imagery is seconded by the books’ headings; Flora, Food, House & Home, Fauna and Death, with each section housing its own capacity for depth and substance permitting religious, political, social and ideological interpretation, explained by Petry, that at first glance may not be assumed.
Nature Morte : Contemporary artists reinvigorate the Still-Life tradition is a daring, convincing and completely on-point collection of modern still-life that features both canonical and lesser-known artists alongside several that have recently exhibited in London; Sarah Lucas, Clare Tworney and Robert Gober.
Featured artists : John Currin, Elmgreen & Dragset, Robert Gober, Renata Hegyi, Damien Hirst, David Hockney, Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas, Beatriz Milhazes, Gabriel Orozco, Elizabeth Peyton, Marc Quinn, Gerhard Richter, Sam Taylor-Wood and Ai Wei Wei.
About the author
Michael Petry is an artist, curator, Doctor of Arts and Director of Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), London. He is the author of Installation Art, Installation in the New Millennium and The Art of Not Making, all published by Thames & Hudson.
Nature Morte : Contemporary artists reinvigorate the Still-Life tradition by Michael Petry is published by Thames & Hudson, £35.00 Hardback, thamesandhudson.com
words by Kimberley Brown