Leading artists of the twenty-first century are reviving the still life, a genre that once was more associated with the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Old Masters than with contemporary art. The audacious still lifes celebrated here challenge that historical supremacy and redefine what it means to be a work of nature morte (literally translated from the French: “dead nature”). Whether through painting, drawing, sculpture, video, or other media, contemporary artists have drawn on the centuries-old tradition to create works of conceptual vivacity, beauty, and emotional poignancy.
Structured according to the classical categories of the still-life tradition—Flora, Food, House and Home, Fauna, and Death, each chapter explores how the timeless symbolic resonance of the memento mori—a reminder of death, change, and the passing of time—has been rediscovered for a new millennium. Among the artists represented are John Currin, Saara Ekström, Elmgreen & Dragset, Renata Hegyi, Damien Hirst, David Hockney, Gary Hume, Jeff Koons, McDermott & McGough, Beatriz Milhazes, Gabriel Orozco, Marc Quinn, Sam Taylor-Wood, and Cy Twombly.
Michael Petry is Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, London.