Still Still Life at the Sara Hildén Art Museum presents an overview of the still life and its essence
The common factor uniting the works in the Still Still Life exhibition, which opens on 1st February, is a conception of the still life and its essence. The exhibition presents an overview of the interpretations and forms that the still life has received in modern and contemporary art.
In the exhibition, works in the collection of the Sara Hildén Foundation are complemented with pieces borrowed from contemporary artists. The exhibition presents works by the following artists: Greta Alfaro, Arman (Armand Fernandez), Hans-Christian Berg, Fernando Botero, Claudio Bravo, Anthony Caro, Jacob Dahlgren, Berlinde De Bruyckere, Saara Ekström, Erik Enroth, Susanne Gottberg, Juan Gris, Emma Helle, Nir Hod, Daniel Jacoby, Elina Juopperi, Zhanna Kadyrova, Antero Kahila, Pentti Kaskipuro, Arto Korhonen, Fernand Léger, Li Mingzhu, Heikki Marila, Giorgio Morandi, Inka Nieminen, Pablo Picasso, Anna Retulainen, Nicolas de Staël, Toni R. Toivonen, Anu Tuominen, Rafael Wardi, Klaus Weber.
Surrounded by classic works of modern art in the main hall of the museum is an installation titled Market (2017–19). Created by the Ukrainian artist Zhanna Kadyrova (b. 1981), it was exhibited in the 2019 Venice Biennale. It takes its formal idiom from movements in modern art like cubism, which breaks down the subject into diagonals and planes, and constructivism with its emphasis on geometric forms. At the same time, however, it also examines the value and the valuation of art.
For the modernists, the still life was an important tool for the free examination of artistic challenges connected with composition, light and form. The still life, they believed, existed for the sake of art and had no reference to anything outside itself.
Originally, the still life was a genre of art whose subjects consisted of ordinary domestic objects like items of food and flowers, and whose theme was evanescence. It was characterised by an exact observation and expression of the subject that conveyed the feeling of the surface and the aesthetic properties of the material.
The objects depicted in Pentti Kaskipuro’s (1930–2010) still lifes were found on his own kitchen table. Kaskipuro’s black-and-white graphic prints are presented in a hall devoted to the sphere of the home side by side with Anna Retulainen’s (b. 1969) paintings. Lying in an area between in the figurative and the non-figurative, her works allow the viewer to experience the gradual decomposition of fruits and vegetables speeded-up.
The contemporary still life has broken out of its frame and off its two-dimensional surface to become an installation made up of objects and various materials that spread into the surrounding space. In video and installation art, a work does not present an object but concretely is the object, as Saara Ekström’s video work Nature Morte (2004–2020) demonstrates.
The contemporary still life also studies and reflects on its own situation as a form of art. Susanne Gottberg (b. 1964) presents different parts of the still life, such as the base and the objects on it, in separate works. In her painting Object (2015), the feeling of an ordinary drinking glass is depicted with the same exactitude as the early still lifes, but on a larger scale and without other elements.
One of the sub-genres of the still life are works depicting the theme of vanitas, a Latin word meaning vanity. Vanitas still lifes contain everything that exists around us and that will remain after us. They depict the visible word concretely but at the same time also metaphorically. Toni R. Toivonen’s (b. 1987) works represent a new type of vanitas still life: he places a dead animal on a brass plate, which is etched and coloured by the decomposition of the animal under the control of the artist.
The Still Still Life exhibition shows that the still life is still a relevant art form. Its centuries-old popularity is based on man’s special relationship with objects as part of the material world: we employ, make use of and derive pleasure from them. The still life is still a tool for exploring and expressing different contents and value systems.
The exhibited works offer a platform for discussing our relationship to objects and materials. Viewing them gives us an opportunity to think about things for a moment – or perhaps for a little longer. “A work has to be aesthetic for it to entice one into something more conceptual." (Toni R. Toivonen).
The exhibition is complemented by a presentation of photographs by school pupils and students on the theme of vanitas in Café Sara. The project, carried out in collaboration with the Association of Fine Arts Teachers of the Pirkanmaa Region, presents photographic works by school students of different ages commenting on the profusion and superfluity of goods in today’s world.
Still Still Life 1.2.–17.5.2020 at the Sara Hildén Art Museum
Photos Saara Ekström, Nature Morte, 2004.