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Beautiful Decay


An exhibition of still life from the Permanent Collection accompanied by installations from three contemporary artists

March 6–June 5, 2016

Pigors, Left Corridor, Right Corridor, and Library Galleries

Members Only Reception

Saturday, March 5 \ 6–8pm
Refreshments served
Advance registration required. Become a Member now.


About the Exhibition

More than a bowl of fruit or a vase of flowers, a still life conveys ideas that go beyond the arrangement of objects and the temporal moment that is captured. Still life compositions represent our thoughts on mortality, the passage of time, our organic nature, or connections to ourselves, family, and the world around us. A still life is actually rather “unstill” in that its subject is often constantly changing.

Still life is deeply rooted in art historical tradition, and has always been heavily symbolic, with meanings attached to the fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other objects of desire meticulously arranged and carefully rendered. Contemporary interpretations look to the art of the Baroque—Italian, Spanish, and Dutch works marked by voluminous and detailed compositions with dramatic lighting and a rich palette. The trompe l’oeil aspect of a still life, seen often in nineteenth-century American art, was particularly captivating to viewers, fooling the eye into believing that there was a third dimension to an otherwise traditional two-dimensional composition. Realism that looks good enough to touch is well represented in the Museum’s permanent collection, in works by Audrey Flack, Phyllis Berman, Denise Mickilowski, and Scott Prior. The “unstill life”—seen in works by Hyman Bloom, Karl Zerbe, Aaron Fink, and Nina Bohlen—engages expressive forms nearing abstraction, and serve as a fitting counterpoint to photo-realism.

Beautiful Decay includes two galleries of works from the Museum’s permanent collection, accompanied by installations from three contemporary artists, Sarah Meyers Brent, Steven Duede, and David Weinberg. Through paintings, drawings, photographs, and mixed media installation, the exhibition invites viewers to expand their definition to explore both the traditional and untraditional still life.

In the Left and Right Corridor Galleries
Works from the Permanent Collection represent the paradoxical nature of the still life, as well as a range of styles from photo realism to abstraction. The historical traditions of still life are represented in striking works from the 20th and 21st centuries.

In the Pigors Gallery
Sarah Meyers Brent \ Seep, Spill, Grow
Pouring forth from the walls, floor, and ceiling, the mixed media works of Sarah Meyers Brent are physical manifestations of the beauty and disorder of creation. Organic and fertile, while also decaying and uncontrolled, her works chronicle periods of growth and change in our shared human experience, and are at the same time deeply personal.

In the Library Gallery
Steven Duede \ Temporal Beauty
Steven Duede’s photographs capture the beauty of wilted and decaying flowers, fruits, and vegetables in his compost bin. The transitory nature of his subjects pays tribute to the tradition of a still life composition and its focus on the impermanence of organic objects, a theme that contrasts the vibrancy and rich colors of his works. 

Right Corridor Gallery
David Weinberg \ Forbidden Fruit
The precision and stillness of David Weinberg’s still life photographs of fruit and the objects of daily life belie the anxiety of a medical crisis which informed his works. Meditations in the Spanish Baroque style, and laden with symbolic meaning, including the repetition of the pomegranate to symbolize fertility, these works are austere, deliberate, and hyper-realistic.

Related Programming

Public, docent-led tours are offered every Sunday, and Artist Talks, public programs, and related studio art classes and workshops are offered throughout the season. Most public events are included in museum admission. See the Events page for details.

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Supported in part by:

Masschusetts Office of Travel and Tourism Masschusetts Cultural Council Institute of Museum and Life Sciences

Please Note: There are no museum galleries or exhibitions currently in this building; please see our exhibitions page for offsite offerings.

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