Conceived by Laurence Bertrand Dorléac, this author’s exhibition offers a new vision of this genre long considered minor and whose French title, born late in the 17the century, has never satisfied anyone. The expression “still life” does not take into account a very lively genre, which is basically an arrangement of things in a certain order assembled by the artist.
This carte blanche brings together nearly 170 works, on loan from more than 70 of the most prestigious institutions and private collections. A monumental work by Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo, The Missing Migrants Pillar, also unfolds under the Pyramid, as a prelude to the exhibition. In a walk in fifteen chronological and thematic sequences, the works, representing all media (from painting to video, via sculpture, photography and cinema), dialogue with each other, beyond time and geography, down to modern times.
The representation of things, of which we find testimonies from prehistoric times, offers a wonderful dive into history. The artists were, in fact, the first to take things seriously. They recognized their presence, made them alive and interesting by exalting their form, their meaning, their power, their charm, seized on their ability to shape our fears, our beliefs, our doubts, our dreams, our desires, to our follies.
The exhibition intends to re-establish a dialogue between this genre perceived as outmoded and the public: the still life is one of the powerful artistic evocations of sensitive life. Because human beings live with things and are attached to them, because things occupy a decisive place in lives and imaginations, still life says a lot about us and has a lot to tell us. It tells of our relationship with material goods, which are not reducible to their materiality but which are charged with meaning.
The last great demonstration around the still life, Still life from Antiquity to the XXe century, was organized in 1952 in Paris by Charles Sterling, curator at the Louvre. This exhibition pays homage to this great art historian; it is however not a question of a remake, but of starting from our knowledge and our contemporary mentality. The point of view integrates everything that has renewed representation techniques and perspectives, both in the history of ancient and contemporary art, and in literature, poetry, philosophy, archaeology, anthropology, science or ecology.
Expanding chronological and geographical boundaries, the exhibition opens windows to other cultures that have depicted things in majesty, including when they were no longer shown for themselves in the Christian West – from VIe in the 16the century. She revisits the genre of still life, in the perspective of the eternal dialogue between the artists of the present and those of the past, in a permanent renewal of the gaze: from prehistoric axes to Duchamp’s readymade, passing through the astonishing arrangements of Arcimboldo, by Clara Peeters, Louise Moillon, Zurbarán, Chardin, Anne Vallayer-Coster, Manet, De Chirico, Miró, Nan Goldin, Ron Mueck and many others.
The representation of things by artists is imbued with a wide variety of practices and ideas, beliefs and feelings, which inspire the movements of society as much as they echo them. Within a recognized even hackneyed code, the simplicity of things invites artists to unheard-of formal freedoms.
The genre of the still life must also be reconsidered in favor of the contemporary attachment to things as well as to the new relationships that are established between the living and the non-living. This exhibition necessarily contains today’s concerns: ecological challenges, the new rights of animals and things (of forests in particular), while certain persistences, such as that of the theme of Vanity, reveal profound anthropological truths.
The diachronic structure chosen for the itinerary of the exhibition has the advantage of highlighting the turning points in the history of the representations. It also manages the necessary connections between works from different periods. Three periods are particularly conducive to the abundance of things represented: Antiquity, the 16e-XVIIe centuries and the XXe-XXIe centuries.
Curator of the exhibition: Laurence Bertrand Dorléac, art historian, with the collaboration of Thibault Boulvain and Dimitri Salmon.
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Les Choses – Press area of the Louvre Museum
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